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Are lifestyle changes the right choice for me?

        Health | Heart

Here are some benefits you can expect when you make healthy choices each day in the way you eat, exercise, manage stress, and live.

  • You lower your risk of heart attack and sudden cardiac death.
  • You make it easier to control your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight. All these factors, if uncontrolled, can contribute to your CHD.
  • You improve your overall health.
  • You have more stamina and energy.
  • You have less risk for such problems as stroke, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
  • You gain a sense of having control over your own life rather than feeling that your CHD is controlling you.

When you have coronary heart disease, it's likely that you will need to take medicine for it. But medicine isn't enough. Your doctor is likely to recommend that you make changes in your daily habits and that means making different choices about such things as:

  • what you eat
  • how much you exercise
  • what you do when you feel stressed

The choices the doctor asks you to make may also include actions such as:

  • quitting smoking
  • becoming more physically active

You need to pay attention to what your doctor says and get advice on how you can follow through with these recommendations. If you don't, you won't be getting all the benefits from treatment that you can.

If I make lifestyle changes, can I get rid of all my risk?

You can't change or eliminate all your risk factors for heart disease. For instance, you can't do anything about your increasing age. Nor can you change if you are a man or if you are a woman who has gone through either a natural or surgical menopause. Each of these is a risk factor for CHD. However, making efforts to choose a healthy lifestyle and taking your medicines as prescribed will have a very positive impact on your health.

Are intensive lifestyle changes for me?

Some studies have shown that more intensive lifestyle changes can begin to reverse even severe heart disease, without taking medicine to lower cholesterol or having surgery. Several doctors, with Dean Ornish, M.D. being one of the most publicized, have programs for this. Dr. Ornish and others have been working with patients who are willing to make radical changes in order to reverse heart disease.

Dr. Ornish's program includes the following components:

  • very-low-fat vegetarian diet
  • moderate aerobic exercise
  • stress management
  • smoking cessation
  • group support

Making changes like these is not an easy adjustment for most people. The very-low-fat vegetarian diet, in particular, is hard for many to stick with. Plus, in Ornish's program, you need to do all five parts at the same time to reap the benefits. For those who are willing to try hard, these changes may present a new way to think about heart health. To get lasting results, you'll need to make these changes forever as part of a new and lasting way of living. Learning new ways to enjoy food and taking the time and energy to develop new habits is the key.

To learn more about how you might gain from following an intensive program, see what are the benefits of making intensive lifestyle changes?

What do I do?

To help you move from knowing that you should take action to being able to take action, see what do I need to know about making lifestyle changes? See these articles to learn more about the lifestyle issue you want to start with.

If you and your doctor decide that intensive lifestyle changes are appropriate for you, see these articles to learn about each part of the intensive lifestyle program.