Q&A: Howie Mandel runs to be calm, works to help others with A-fib
Comedian Howie Mandel has been open about his mental illness, but what many don’t know is how he uses exercise to calm his mind and control compulsive thoughts.
Was physical activity something you’ve always been interested in, or is this new?
I wasn’t an active kid. My mind was, but my body? Not too much. I had a great imagination, but I was preoccupied with compulsive thoughts, and ADD, and I acted out. I was never really athletic. In high school I was trying to get the interest of girls, but I couldn’t get on any teams. I was 4 foot 10 and maybe 90 pounds, and I figured sports would be an in-road into meeting women. The only team I could get on was the wrestling team, but I didn’t think of the ramifications when I joined. For a guy who doesn’t like to shake hands, I was rolling around on a mat with strange guys. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t meet any girls.
So wrestling is out. What are you doing for exercise now?
I started running in the last 10 years. I run seven days a week, six to 10 miles each time. I began doing it for my head more than anything. I just enjoyed the meditative state it puts me in: focusing on my footsteps and my breath. It is a comfortable place for me to have solace. I prefer outside versus inside. I like hills and trees, but it’s not really to explore; it’s to escape. I don’t focus outwardly that much. I focus more inwardly. I realized that mentally I would feel real calm when I was doing it, and I would spend such a small part of my day feeling calm. That’s what running does for me.
That’s a lot of running. Have you had any problems with injuries?
I was running in Central Park in New York City and it was raining and I slipped in a puddle and fell. I was totally covered in mud, my knees were bleeding and my hands were scraped, but other than that, no injuries.
Are there any other activities besides running?
I did a sit-up about 2½ months ago. I’m a runner, and that’s it. I don’t like public gyms. I don’t want to touch anything. If I lift things, it’s to move them out of the way. If I use a public treadmill, I have my own way of controlling it where I won’t touch it with my hands. If you see me on a public treadmill, it’s like a scene from Cirque du Soleil. I can do so many things without using my hands.
Despite the running, I understand you had a heart scare.
I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation five years ago. A doctor stuck his stethoscope to my chest and said, “Uh, oh,” which is never good. He said, “You’re in A-fib,” and I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know anything was wrong with me. I figured a guy who was running six to 10 miles a day wouldn’t have anything to worry about. I learned that I was five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without A-fib. The scary part is that people don’t know about this, so we came up with our website FibsOrFacts.com because a lot of people have this and don’t know, and this helps them learn and understand. There are remedies to monitor and take care of it. I feel better now than I ever have in my life.