A month to change your heart: Day 2

Yesterday, you were given a brief taste of the Mediterranean Diet.  There will be much more about diet on Thursday of this week.

Today, we will look into the other three pillars of the program- exercise, stress management, and the importance of becoming informed about the heart.


Most people who start an exercise program stop it within three weeks. Initially, it is not a part of your routine so you are spending time exercising that used to be spent on another activities.   Exercise needs to become so routine for you that if you don’t do it every day, it feels like it does when you haven’t brushed your teeth.   We need to find a way to make exercise a habit, and fun.  As you watch our videos about the changes that are happening to your body when you become a regular exerciser, you will be convinced of its importance. Find something that you like to do, that does not hurt, and that you look forward to doing.  Start slowly.  Carve out some time every day dedicated to just you- even if it is just 10 or 15 minutes to start.  In that time, do some kind of cardiovascular activity such as walking, running, swimming or biking.  The goal is to raise your heart rate but still be able to carry on a conversation.  If you are so winded while exercising that you cannot talk, you are doing too much.

Another way to get active is to take the stairs. Ditch the elevator and your car.  The less time you are sitting during the day the better. Do not go to bed without having a plan as to how, when and where you are going to exercise the next day. “I am going to walk tomorrow” is not an actual plan. Instead, lay out your sneakers and your gym clothes the night before so you can put them on as soon as you wake up with the goal of exercising first thing in the morning.  If you like to do something in the evening, commit to doing something with a friend who you will not want to let down. 

Stress reduction

High levels of stress will increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.  More and more studies have begun to show that the effect of stress on the heart is even greater than we used to think.  For example, anger, irritability, and hostility can provoke your arteries to constrict.  Relaxation techniques can help loosen up those arteries. We will introduce several different kinds of methods to help with stress, including yoga, tai chi, meditation, laughter, and mindfulness.

Become more informed

Knowing how the medical system works, what medications do, and how to talk to your doctor are all ways to become more empowered and actively participate in your own health care.  Being armed with information can help you make informed decisions, and ask better questions.  Here is an example:

Bill is a 52-year-old man who has high cholesterol.  He has been healthy, and his doctor suggested that he be on a statin medication to lower his cholesterol.  He tried one called simvastatin, and developed muscle aching after about three months.  His cholesterol was checked, and it came down significantly.  When he spoke to his doctor, he suggested that Bill stay on the simvastatin (also called Zocor) because it was working.  When his symptoms persisted, he was switched to atorvastatin (also called Lipitor), which also helped his cholesterol levels.  After several more months, his legs again began to ache.  Out of frustration he stopped his atorvastatin and decided he would never take cholesterol-lowering medication again. 

He began the Healthy Change of Heart Program, followed a different diet, and exercised.  He learned what foods to avoid, and how to change his lifestyle.  So instead of just stopping the medication, he wanted to do something else to lower his risk. The key is to start slowly, and make a little change every day.

On the second day of the Healthy Change of Heart, the doctor said to me:

  1. Get ready to see proof that heart disease is reversible
  2. Understand that a family history of hypertension, diabetes or heart disease does not have to be your destiny
  3. Discover how much control you have over your health by making important lifestyle changes
  4. Do a food inventory.  Look through your refrigerator, freezer, pantry and all of your hiding places for “treats” and resolve to give away all of the foods that are not good choices.  Yes, this means the Milky Way’s leftover from Halloween that you were saving for a really bad day. 
  5. Dust off your sneakers and go for a walk.  Take a tour of the gym you have been meaning to join.  Look for an exercise program on Demand or dig out your old dance DVD’s.  Get ready to move!
  6. Make a list of your motivation for wanting to become healthier
  7. Enlist the help of your spouse, family members, and friends to help you start and stay with your new lifestyle choices.  You will be exercising and changing your diet
  8. Be prepared to change your thinking about the stress in your life.  Stress is manageable!
  9. Start to think about how great it will feel to lower your LDL or bad cholesterol, your blood sugar and your blood pressure.
  10. Think about how proud you will feel the day you see your doctor and he/she suggests that you lower or eliminate some medication because of all of the lifestyle changes you have made. 

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