A portly corporate executive who was told exercise could kill him because of his ‘ticking time bomb’ heart has defied doctors’ orders and perfected an enviable six-pack.
Father-of-two Amir Ali, 43, was stunned to be diagnosed with life-threatening arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) in October 2015, after suffering chest pain and palpitations that he had largely ignored for months.
Says ARVC, a disease of the heart muscle that causes interruptions in normal electrical signals to the heart, could lead to life-threatening arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat – and sudden death, he was advised to stop taking blood practice.
But after gaining weight during the second lockdown, Amir, who lives with his wife Rehab, 35, a stay-at-home mom, and their children Zakaria, 11, and Mohammed, eight, in Ealing, west of London took drastic action saying “I knew my heart was a ticking time bomb.” I had no idea when he would give up.
He added: “Then in the second lockdown I gained so much weight. I had never been heavy and knew I needed professional help.
“I went to see a personal trainer expecting him to turn me down.
“I showed them my medical reports and everything.”
So, despite being advised by his cardiologist to stop exercising because his elevated heart rate could be life-threatening, Amir hired the trainer last July and started training. three times per week.
He said: “After my diagnosis, I lived in fear.
“I have children, a family, a life to lead. All of this could have ended at any time.
“Since I started training, I’ve lost almost 4th, I’ve stopped having heart palpitations and my six-monthly heart check-ups have been reduced to once a year.
“My doctors are thrilled with my progress and I feel much stronger and fitter.”
Prior to his diagnosis, Amir was in great shape. A black belt in karate, he frequently played football games, was a regular in the gym, and walked for miles almost every day.
He had no idea he faced such danger, saying, “I thought heart palpitations were completely normal and I assumed everyone had them.
“I thought it just happened the same way your stomach was rumbling. I’ve had them daily for years.
“When I started having chest pains on my left side, I did what I had always done and let nature take its course. I’m not one to go to the doctor. I only did this when the pain hadn’t stopped for six months.
Amir was then subjected to a series of tests which revealed scarring on his heart which led to a diagnosis of ARVC.
His active lifestyle was “turned off overnight when doctors warned him to calm down and give up strenuous exercise”.
Doctors also prescribed him medication for heart failure and high blood pressure and recommended surgery to fit an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), an electronic device surgically implanted near his heart to regulate any abnormal rhythms.
Initially rejecting it, as he feared he had a foreign body inside him, after speaking to several consultants and making it clear to him that his life was at stake, Amir relented and had the ICD installed in March 2020.
But, during the Covid lockdowns, his sedentary lifestyle saw him pile on pounds and as a result suffer from more frequent heart palpitations, as well as being short of breath and feeling his life was ‘very fragile’.
He felt caught in a catch-22 as he desperately wanted to feel stronger and fitter, but was told intense exercise could be dangerous.
Amir’s doctor at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London has warned him not to elevate his heart rate more than 70% and not to do overhead weightlifting or anything that might cause tension in his pecs, because of his ICD device.
He said: “Before all of this, I considered myself a very active guy.
“After being diagnosed, I suddenly worried about climbing stairs and running out of breath.”
But, despite the risks, Amir reached out to global personal training company Ultimate Performance and was connected with PT Emma Kershaw in July 2021.
At that time, he weighed 13th at 5ft 6in, giving him a body mass index (BMI) used to assess a healthy weight of 29.3, making him borderline obese within the healthy range. of the NHS from 18.5 to 24.9.
Doing everything possible, Emma established a relationship with Amir’s consultant, researched his heart condition and even sent videos of exercises to the hospital to check that they were suitable for him before including them in his training schedule three times a week.
Taking all possible measures to ensure his safety, she adapted a diet and exercise program for him which was approved by his doctor, who also watched him carefully, and he quickly trained gently and loved it.
Wearing a heart rate monitor to make sure beats per minute (BPM) stays within a safe range, he incorporated weight lifting and gentle stretching.
Amir said: “Emma has been amazing. I call her my second mom because she took such good care of me.
“She watched every new exercise to see the stress it put on my heart.
“And if something didn’t work for me, she found another way to work the same muscle.”
But, despite Emma’s care, training hasn’t been without worries for Amir.
He said: “I once joked with Emma that a lot of heart attacks happened in the gym. Of course I was worried but I trust him and I knew I had to.
After eight months of regular sessions, Amir’s weight has dropped to 9 pounds, bringing his BMI to 21.6, well within the healthy NHS range.
More remarkably, his resting heart rate dropped from 84 bpm to just 48 bpm, which is akin to that of an athlete.
Still working with Emma three times a week, he said, “I feel like RoboCop. Honestly, I’ve never felt better.
“I haven’t had a heart palpitation in months. If I lose my breath while working out, it only happens for a few seconds.
“I feel better than ever and my doctor told me that since my last medical reports they only need to see me once a year.”
Although his condition cannot be cured and needs to be monitored for the rest of his life, Amir says he credits Emma for bringing him back to life.
He said: “She’s been amazing.
“I would never advise anyone with heart disease to train without making sure they are supervised by a suitable trainer and have their doctor’s approval.
“But I think the exercise has done wonders for me.”
- Hypertrophic – the heart wall is thickened
- Dilated – the heart muscle becomes stretched and thin
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricle – heart muscle cells cannot be held together
Emma was incredibly impressed with Amir’s progress.
She said: “At UP, as trainers, we are all deeply invested in helping our clients achieve their fitness goals, and we all sincerely want to go the extra mile for them.
“Working with Amir meant that we had to be extremely judicious in that we had to be extremely careful in terms of selecting exercises and working in specific heart rate zones.
“The team and I did a lot of research and constantly communicated with Amir’s consultant to ensure his personal training program was appropriate, and monitored his heart rate in real time throughout each session.
“It is an absolute privilege to coach Amir and we are all very proud of all he has achieved at Ultimate Performance. I look forward to continuing to work with Amir as a team for many more years, improving his physical and health.
Dr Konstantinos Savvatis, consultant cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital (part of HCA UK) warned of the importance of consulting a doctor before exercising after a diagnosis of ARVC.
He said: “Exercise limitation plays an important role in the care of patients who are diagnosed with ARVC and exercise counseling is a central part of every consultation.
“Various studies have shown that long-duration, high-intensity exercise can negatively impact the severity of the condition and the risk of dangerous ventricular arrhythmias and, even, cardiac arrest.
“The current recommendation in patients with ARVC is to avoid endurance and high intensity exercise. Unfortunately, there is little evidence on how much and what type of exercise is safe in ARVC. It is recommended that all patients with ARVC discuss exercise advice with their cardiomyopathic physician.”