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What Are the Benefits of Making Intensive Lifestyle Changes to Control My Cholesterol?

The most well-known intensive lifestyle change program is the one created by Dean Ornish, M.D. He is president and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI).

Dr. Ornish's work has been published in major medical journals. His findings, along with others who have similar studies, show that intensive lifestyle change programs have significant health benefits. Your health will improve when you make intensive changes to your diet, exercise, and other habits. If you follow this program faithfully, you may expect to get results like those who participated in one of the published studies that is listed below.

  • If you have atherosclerosis, you may have healthier arteries. Within 1 month of starting the program, patients in Dr. Ornish's programs had increased blood flow to their heart. Within a year, most study patients improved. Most of the arteries that had been severely blocked became less blocked. And patients didn't need invasive procedure.
  • If you have heart disease, you may have less chest pain. Almost all those in the study had a decrease in how often they had angina, and their pain was less severe. Many became pain free.
  • If you have high blood pressure, you may see it go down to healthier levels. Those in the study had lower blood pressure levels when they were resting and when they were under stress.
  • If you have high cholesterol, you may see it go down to healthier levels.

As long as people continued their healthy efforts, they continued to get these benefits. Dr. Ornish and his colleagues at other medical centers followed patients for 5 years in their Lifestyle Heart Trial. Most patients had more reversal of heart disease after 5 years than they did after 1 year. Those who did not follow the intensive lifestyle change program but who made only moderate changes in their lifestyle usually became worse after 1 year and had increased blockages after 5 years.

Dr. Ornish and his colleagues reported the following facts in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

After 1 year, the patients had less plaque in their arteries. This was true even though they weren't taking medicines to lower cholesterol.

After 5 years, the number of cardiac events in this group was much lower. Cardiac events include strokes, heart attacks, bypass surgery, and angioplasty.

Another study, reported in the American Journal of Cardiology, showed similar results. Those who were dedicated to intensive lifestyle changes found that they had much less angina. In fact, they had no more pain than those who had bypass or angioplasty. By sticking with the program, these people were able to avoid bypass surgery for at least 3 years while they were still tracked by the study.

Based on the success of these programs, more than 40 insurance plans are starting to cover them as a legitimate part of the treatment plan.