Webinars, weight, worries and wiggle room

On October 28 at 8pm EST the Three Musketeers of things aeromedical will aim to provide you with some pearls of wisdom in an AOPA webinar. You may register here.  Gary "Athos" Crump, Warren "Pathos" Silberman and yours truly, "Aramis" are even now caucusing on what to cover in that one hour session and, as ever, believing an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, I thought I would send some advance thoughts over the wire. 

The average pilot (okay, we are all above average!) is a middle aged guy and as such, the likeliest way to graduate to the highest of all flight levels is heart disease. And although all pilots like to fly high and fast this is too high - so how do you keep out of the H (Heaven) Levels? 

I am sure you know your aircraft's maximum gross weight, but is your weight gross? Control your weight and you will not be taking off for HL 500 prematurely. Ideally, keep your Body Mass Index (BMI) below 25 - you can calculate it at:     

Maintaining a good weight is achieved by eating less - and ensuring it is a healthy diet you consume - as well as exercising regularly. What does that actually mean? Well, as the holiday season approaches, many Americans are considering sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner that contains maybe 4 - 5 times as many calories as one should eat in a day! I have heard people say "what’s the big deal about getting in shape? Round is a shape! 

Data shows that being heavy correlates with a shorter life - and health - span. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, eat more oily fish (salmon, halibut etc.) and less red meat and carbohydrates. For snacks try munching on some raw veggies and nuts rather than a muffin, chips or candy. And avoid sodas like the plague. 

Exercise regularly? Heard the one about the sloth who said "every time I get the urge to exercise I sit down until it passes." It can be as simple as taking a walk to go shopping rather than taking your car. Three times a week for 30 - 40 minutes can make all the difference and I promise, you will feel better afterwards. One great way to get inspired is to buy a dog - their need for exercise will encourage you. If you are out of shape, talk to your doctor before embarking on an exercise program.

The next one is so obvious I should not have to say it, but unfortunately a lot of pilots still smoke. It is the dumbest thing you can do and you must take every measure to stop. See your doctor, see a hypnotherapist, see the light, but stop!

 In the past I have recommended pilots discuss cardiac screening with their personal physicians and I still hold the opinion that heart scanning can be a valuable tool, but concur with my critics that avoiding heart disease is even better. A big part of that is understanding your own risk and that includes knowing your family history and ensuring you have your blood pressure and lipids checked at the correct frequency.

The Framingham study is a renowned data set that can be used to calculate one's personal risk and you can do this for no cost online ( If this spits out the answer that you are at high risk or you have symptoms suggestive of heart problems (chest, jaw or arm pain, breathlessness on exertion or lying down, ankle swelling, skipped heart beats etc.) please go and see a physician pronto.

As a kid I was sent to the Principal's office and remember standing outside, facing the wall ashamed. "If I stare at the wall, I can't see anyone and nobody can see me." That was plain stupid and it is just as daft looking for wiggle room and ignoring signs of heart disease in the hope they will go away; they will not. Without taking you with them.

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
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