Mind and Body

Heart health is in your hands

Making the decision to change careers and attend graduate school was not only life changing from an intellectual perspective, but also from a health viewpoint—especially because of my strong family history of heart disease.   

I was inspired by the notion that food, beverage and physical activity choices could impact a person’s health.   It has been easy to embrace this career and lifestyle—since I love to eat and exercise.  I recently had the opportunity to ask Star Jones about her challenge with heart disease.

“It is a mixture of genetics, environment, lifestyle and being sedentary for years and years and years,” Jones explained. She now follows much of what you’ll read here.

Get up and move

We’ve heard that it is important to be physically active, but often people wonder which type of exercise is best—cardio or resistance?  Carl Foster, a professor at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, stressed that if you only had to pick one—it should be a cardiovascular exercise like walking or jogging.

“You do it upright on a skeleton that is loaded with your body weight, it’s good for your heart, muscles and bones,” Foster said. “This is increasingly important for women as they approach their 40’s.”

Both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association support federal physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity, daily physical activity five days a week.  However, more can be better.  

In a study by Jonathan Myers, it was determined that the risk of heart disease, in men, decreased by 12 percent for each metabolic equivalent of peak exercise capacity.

For those who may not perceive that they have an extra 30 minutes of “extra time” in the day to exercise—you can break it down into smaller units.  For example, take a brisk five minute walk every hour that you are at work (during an eight hour work day), you would accumulate 40 minutes of physical activity.  Not too bad!  

You also may consider doing calisthenics during commercials when watching your favorite television show—for 60 minutes of television, there is 20 minutes of advertising tied into 40 minutes of content.

The spectrum for health improvement

Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute and best-selling author, has devoted his professional life to improving health outcomes.  As a medical student, Ornish was shocked to see so many bypass patients, who were seemingly cured, end up back on the surgeon’s table.

“I call this the metaphor for an incomplete approach, we were bypassing the problem without addressing the underlying cause,” Ornish said.

Genetic nihilism

Many people find it easy to blame their genes.  However, in the course of his research—focusing on reversing heart disease, Ornish found over 500 genes changed in the first four to six months of his Spectrum program, turning on good genes and down-regulating the oncogenes that promote some cancers.

In addition, telomeres (the ends chromosomes that control how long the cell will live) got longer.  Ornish’s research has demonstrated that people who make better lifestyle choices in terms of diet and exercise not only feel better, but actually are better in ways that can be measured.

Joy of living versus fear of death

“So often we try to scare people to change, but that doesn’t work because the mortality rate is still 100 percent,” said Ornish.  Joy and freedom of choice are sustainable—which is why the Spectrum program allows people to choose the rate of change.

Ornish’s work has focused on a multi faceted approach—diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, and stress reduction.  And rather than telling people they shouldn’t, or can’t, engage in bad practices, his program instead focuses on improving practices.

By making better food and lifestyle choices (versus good or bad), people who have followed Ornish’s program have experience improved circulation, which in itself leads to numerous health benefits.

“When your brain gets more blood, you think more clearly, you have more energy; when your face gets more blood, you don’t wrinkle as quickly; when your sexual organs get more blood flow, you get more sexual potency,” Ornish explained.

Heart healthy foods

If you’re trying to reverse heart disease, a predominantly whole food, low fat, plant-based diet is highly recommended.  Omega-3 fatty acids from supplements or fish are important.  Eating nutrient dense foods while limiting saturated fat and sodium have long been considered the foundation for heart health.  The health benefits of red wine can be found in purple grape juice.  Even fortified or functional foods are good choices from the grocery store.

Remember, it’s all about choice—and the option of living a vibrant and healthy life is in your control.  As Nike’s tag line says, “Just do it.”