by Julie Taylor
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., where someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. (Yikes!) Many of us believe that once we’ve done damage to our hearts through years and years of eating fatty foods, not exercising, and/or smoking like a chimney, it’s irreversible – do not pass go, do not collect $200. But is it?
The Verdict: Great news! Heart disease can be reversed
“As Dr. Dean Ornish found in his Lifestyle Heart Trial, heart damage can indeed be reversed through diet, exercise and stress reduction,” says cardiologist John M. Kennedy, author of The Heart Health Bible. “In his study, he found that even blocked arteries can be unclogged by focusing on these three factors.”
So how much exercise are we talking here? “I recommend twenty to thirty minutes of moderate aerobic activity three or four times a week,” says Shyla High, MD, a cardiologist at Cardiology Consultants of Texas. “Even if you can just fit in a brisk walk, that uses 200 muscles and is great for heart health.”
Diet is crucial when it comes to reversing heart disease, and most experts agree that your best bet is to eat like a Greek. “The best diet for your heart is the Mediterranean diet, which consists generally of fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains and olive oil as the primary fat source,” says L.A. cardiologist Tanvir Hussain, MD. “This kind of a diet is great for prevention of heart disease and stroke, and for managing blood pressure and cholesterol.” Craving a sweet treat? Dark chocolate and blueberries are rich in heart-healthy antioxidants and flavonoids.
The mere mention of heart disease is enough to stress anyone out, but to reverse heart disease, you need less stress, not more. “Relaxation is good for the heart,” says Kennedy. “Guided meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, Pilates, and even watching a sunset all elicit the relaxation response, which lowers heart rate and lowers blood pressure.”
Medication can also help reverse heart damage, which is why seeing your doctor regularly is so important. “For people with high blood pressure, leaving it untreated over time causes microscopic injury to the heart muscle, which can eventually lead to heart failure,” explains Hussain. “Through proper medication management – along with diet, exercise, weight loss and stress reduction – blood pressure can be controlled well, and this scarring process can be reversed if it’s caught in time.”
By incorporating these healthy changes into your lifestyle, you can hop on what High calls the “heart-healthy highway” for a lifetime. “Heart disease and heart damage [are] not a healthy part of aging,” she notes. “It’s not something that has to happen. With hard work and willpower, you can prevent heart disease and reverse heart damage, starting today.” Now that information does a heart good.