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Meet Dr. Heather Shenkman, Ironman Triathlete and Vegan Cardiologist

Feb 20, 2016
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Becoming a Plant-Powered Triathlete

Training and Time Management
Even though I live alone with my two rescued greyhounds and have a busy job, I prepare most of my meals at home. I know that whatever I prepare at home is going to be far healthier than anything from a restaurant. I try to prep and stock my fridge so that it’s easy to grab something. For breakfast, I usually have oatmeal with fruit and/or a green smoothie blended in the Vitamix. For lunch and dinner, my staple meals are farmer’s market salads, rice and bean dishes, and sweet potatoes. Even for training, I like to stick with real food. I bring Medjool dates on very long runs or bike rides and snack on fruit (especially bananas) and nuts. Sometimes I do also have convenient foods like Larabars since they are timesavers and don’t have too many ingredients.

I exercise six days a week, usually doing two workouts per day. My typical weekday morning starts with Golden Road Aquatics, a master’s swim group, from 6-7AM. I shower at the pool and go straight to work. Then, in the evenings, I might go jogging, take a yoga class, or go to a class at Barry’s Boot Camp. Getting in my workouts can be challenging since I’m a busy cardiologist, but I schedule in the time to exercise. I look at my calendar and plan everything in advance so that I know what I am doing as I go into each week. I also do longer, more challenging workouts, like longer trail runs or bike rides, on the weekends.

My Patients: The Reason I Started Living a Healthy Lifestyle
I started exercising so that I wouldn’t be a hypocrite when I gave lifestyle advice to my patients. I had no idea it would become such a fulfilling, incredible part of my personal life. It was a happy surprise.

I encourage my patients to have healthy lifestyle habits and am tell them I would not ask them to do anything that I myself do not do. To help guide them in the right direction, I advise them to watch Forks Over Knives and frame a whole-food, plant-based diet as the healthiest choice. Since no other diet has been shown to reverse heart disease, I tell them that the closest they can come to this diet as possible is best for their heart.

I recognize that not every patient who walks in my office is going to walk out a vegan. In fact, most won’t. My goal as a cardiologist is to provide my patients with the best information on how to improve their heart health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular events. What they do with that information is up to them. When I start talking to patients about diet, a common reaction is: “I’ll never become a vegetarian!” I don’t expect most of my patients (who eat meat, butter, and cheese at every meal) to give it up all at once. Instead, I talk about how their diet and lifestyle habits have led them to their present disease. We agree that years of animal products, fast food, junk food, lack of exercise, and smoking have all contributed to their current state of health. We also agree that in order to do better, some of those habits need to change.

For more resistant patients, I start out with simple and easy steps like: Eat more fruits and vegetables; eat less meat and dairy; walk for a few minutes every day. A plant-based diet is ideal, but some people need to start small with attainable goals. At the next visit, we take it a few steps further. On the other hand, I have patients who take on lifestyle change with vigor. They adopt a plant-based diet and start exercising. And without much effort, excess weight seems to come off. They tend to feel better as well. Of those motivated patients, I have not seen a single one of them have a recurrent cardiac event—not one has needed another stent or another bypass surgery.

Meet Dr. Heather Shenkman, Ironman Triathlete and Vegan Cardiologist
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