I am an interventional cardiologist. I specialize in invasive cardiac diagnostic studies and mechanical treatments of cardiac and vascular disease. I spent 12 years in post graduate education to acquire the interventional skills required to treat coronary artery disease. I love what I do and am amazed at the technological advances in medicine and how they have helped many patients suffering with cardiovascular disease. But I don’t want you to need me for these skills. If you do it means that things are not going well for your heart.
I am part of an army of doctors that are implanting over 1 million stents each year in the United States. Additionally my surgical colleagues are performing more than a half million bypass operations. I have observed some of the remarkable benefits of these procedures, particularly in the setting of heart attacks and for relief of debilitating symptoms. However, outside of the emergent treatment for heart attack, these procedures are, in general “ band aids” performed as “treatment” of coronary artery disease in order to improve the quality of health of millions of Americans. Sadly, patients treated with stents and bypass surgery often continue to suffer from coronary disease years or even months later. The costs of this condition in lives cut short, quality of life destroyed, and a massive financial burden cannot be understated. Coronary artery disease remains the number one killer of both men and women. What is most troubling is that this trend does not appear to be changing any time in the near future. I can certainly attest to this fact due to the constant stream of new patients entering through my office door with severe coronary disease.
Is there anything we can do about this? Are we able to stop the progression of disease in so many people? The answer is yes, of course we can. But being heart healthy is an active choice and is not an easy change to make as it involves major modifications of the typical 21st century lifestyle. It requires conscious food choices and nutrition, dedicated physical activity, and cognitive changes in stress management. Although these may be initially difficult, once you start loving your heart in this manner, you will find that you have more energy, feel better, and in general be much happier. You will be able to lose weight without having to go on a crazy diet. Your blood pressure and blood sugar will improve. You will reduce your cravings for tobacco and sugar. Your relationships and mental attitude will be much better.
The typical American diet has far too much animal protein, simple sugar, saturated fats and processed foods. There is no doubt that a diet plays a substantial role in the development of heart disease. A diet high in animal protein and saturated fats put people at significant risk for the development of coronary artery disease. One only need to look at the diets of populations that live the longest to see what is good for the human body. These populations have diets that consist of almost none or no animal protein as well as being rich in starches and plants. Moreover, studies have demonstrated that with a plant based diet patients with severe coronary disease had improvement in chest discomfort, blood flow as measured during stress testing, and some even showed regression of coronary atherosclerosis as measured by angiography. Transitioning to a plant based diet is one of the first steps towards loving your heart.
Studies also show that if you want to live free of heart disease you have to move. In general this involves “cardio” or aerobic exercise that in general involves simple repetitive motions that increases the heart rate over a sustained period of time. As simple as it sounds, walking is just about as good as anything as far as aerobic conditioning is concerned. Such regular exercise four to five days a week is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. Exercise has the added benefit of reducing mental stress.
Stress management is an important and often overlooked risk factor involved with heart disease. The recent trying economic times have increased stress levels for many Americans. Meditation and stress relaxation techniques will help you manage the crazy, high pressure lives we lead in this country. Meditation can take on many forms and doesn’t need to be spiritual or mystic. Simple mindfulness and awareness meditation can have a significant impact on your mental state and physical well-being. We will discuss in future blogs specific techniques and mindfulness based exercises.
You know what you are supposed to do for your heart. Deep down you know you shouldn’t be eating that cheeseburger and fries. You know you should be exercising daily. You know that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs. We all have a general sense of what healthy food choices are. So I want you to try and put me out of business. It is my hope that whoever is reading these words will find happiness and health in living to love your heart. Eat well, exercise regularly, maintain a good body weight, don’t smoke, meditate daily, appreciate your loved ones, and manage your stress. In essence, I want you to love your heart so it will love you back.
John A Fry, MD