Raj Nagdev: Tennis Saved My Life
Raj Nagdev (pictured, above) had just hit the courts at Sportime Syosset with a friend when he started to huff and puff. An avid tennis player who’d regularly pick up a racquet five times a week, Nagdev knew his body and his limits, and he couldn’t understand why he was so out of breath after only 15 minutes of play. His hitting partner, Sachal Badlani, a doctor, thought it could be related to asthma. After all, Nagdev could still play through it, and whenever he took a break, he was fine. It was also winter—cold temperatures might be causing a flare up of some kind.
Over the next couple days, in his regular life, Nagdev felt completely normal. Any time he was on a court, however, the huffing and puffing continued. It would occur intermittently and didn’t last forever, so he pressed forward. But at an early morning session less than a week after the symptom first presented itself, Nagdev could barely hit a ball without feeling it. He also started experiencing pain in his chest.
“Every ten minutes I would have to stop and gasp for breath,” Nagdev recalls. “Sachal said, ‘This is not right.’”
Badlani implored Nagdev to go see Dr. Rajiv Jauhar, the Chief of Cardiology at Northwell Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. Jauhar, an avid tennis player himself, frequently played with Nagdev in a Sunday morning league at the Syosset club.
“We all know Dr. Jauhar,” Nagdev says. “The man is amazing.”
At Dr. Jauhar’s office, an angiogram determined Nagdev had a 90% blockage in his LAD artery. If not for his love of tennis, Nagdev would have never known.
“It’s aerobic exercise,” Jauhar explains in regard to why Nagdev only experienced symptoms on a tennis court. “It’s the fact that you have those short spurts of time where your heart rate goes up when you really are pushing yourself. That’s when he was experiencing [chest pain and shortage of breath]. So tennis helped to identify symptoms much quicker than [if he was] somebody who lived a more sedentary lifestyle.”
Almost immediately, Nagdev underwent an angioplasty, and a stent was inserted in the artery to open up the blockage. Days after the procedure, Nagdev already started to feel better. Within weeks, he was playing tennis again.
“I just followed Dr. Jauhar’s instructions,” Nagdev says of the quick turnaround. “He told me, ‘In two-and-a-half weeks, you can get back on the court, hit for an hour and see how you feel. Take it one day at a time.’ [A month-and-a-half later] I’m now playing four days a week. On certain days, I even go and walk nine holes on a golf course. And Dr. Jauhar has been monitoring me and everything I do. Whatever he says is non-negotiable to me.”
Part of those instructions included other important lifestyle changes, like adopting a more low-fat, low-carb diet and cutting back on drinking. Jauhar notes that the South Asian population has a higher incidence of heart disease than any other subgroup, accounting for approximately 60% of all cases across the globe.
“Clearly that’s a problem,” he says. “We’re born with our genetics, we can’t change our genes. But we do have modifiable risk factors: Diet, blood pressure, exercise.”
And there’s no better exercise, in Jauhar’s estimation, than tennis.
“I play tennis every Saturday and Sunday,” he says. “It’s my way of releasing some stress, [developing] camaraderie with friends, getting that aerobic exercise. It’s a great way to maximize your health. You use all your muscles in tennis, muscles that you wouldn’t use by running or lifting weights. There’s no muscle you don’t use in tennis. Your shoulders, your biceps, your triceps, your legs, your abs, your core. Everything. So it’s a full-body workout which is a terrific support [for your health].”
Understandably, Nagdev is even more emphatic about the game’s benefits.
“Look what it did for me—tennis saved my life,” he says. “If I had not been playing, I would have never known about this. When I was at home or walking around, I was breathing fine. No shortness of breath or any such thing. It only happened with tennis. I think everybody should play a game like this, something that gets their heart going.”