Healthy changes in the way we live, particularly diet and exercise, have been proven to:
- Dramatically reduce heart disease risk factors
- Stabilize plaques in the arteries so they are less likely to burst and trigger blood clots that block blood flow, causing heart attacks
- Reverse the progression of coronary artery disease, or atherosclerosis
In decades past, we physicians were trained in the diagnosis and treatment of coronary artery disease after it occurred.
However, the present epidemic of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and their complications of heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and sudden death have necessitated a change of focus to prevention. Prevention is emphasized in the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology’s statement “2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk.”
Medications Vs Lifestyle
Certainly, the use of medications like statins, when appropriate, can be beneficial, but they should be an adjunct to lifestyle improvements rather than a replacement of personal responsibility for our health.
As a cardiologist, I have prescribed medications to lower cholesterol, blood glucose, and other heart disease risk factors, particularly for patients who will not change their lifestyle or for whom this change is not enough.
But time and time again, I have seen that my patients who take steps to improve their heart health naturally – with a healthy Pritikin lifestyle – look and feel better. Their quality of life is far superior. They’re thinner, more physically fit, more energetic, and happier.
What we can achieve, in short, from natural, lifestyle-based approaches like Pritikin has no drug substitute.
Essentially, the Pritikin Program involves:
- An eating plan based on natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nonfat dairy products, seafood, and limited lean meat
- Daily exercise with a three-pronged approach – cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, and flexibility
- Lifestyle education that focuses on practical real-world training such as cooking healthfully, as well as skills for stepping around stress and achieving optimal mental/emotional health.
Improving Heart Health Naturally
Health benefits. States the Centers for Disease Control: “Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health.” It can help:
- Control weight
- Decrease risk of heart disease
- Improve body composition (your fat-to-muscle ratio)
- Lower blood sugar and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome
- Lower blood pressure and reduce risk of hypertension
- Reduce risk of some cancers
- Strengthen bones
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep
- Improve your ability to perform daily activities and prevent falls
- Increase your chances of living longer
3 Key Types of Exercise
The Pritikin Program recommends a combination of all 3 plus additional steps throughout the day as part of your activities of daily living.
- Aerobic (cardiorespiratory)
Daily, a minimum of 30 minutes and optimally 60 to 90 minutes, alternating moderate-intensity days with vigorous-intensity days
- Resistance (strengthening)
Full-body resistance routine 2 to 3 times weekly
- Flexibility (stretching)
Stretching exercises daily to enhance overall flexibility and ability to exercise more freely.
EXERCISE TOLERANCE TESTING
At the beginning of their health retreat at Pritikin, each guest undergoes a graded exercise test (GXT), also called an exercise tolerance test, in addition to a complete blood chemistry panel and physician consultation on health and fitness goals.
The exercise tolerance testing gives us important information for creating each guest’s personal exercise prescription, including:
MAXIMUM HEART RATE
Our heart rate rises linearly with increasing workloads. There is, however, a point at which heart rate does not increase in response to an increased workload. This is termed the Maximum Heart Rate. It is dependent primarily on age because as we age, our Maximum Heart Rate decreases.
You can predict your Maximum Heart Rate by subtracting your age from 220. It’s called the Maximum Predicted Heart Rate (MPHR). An MPHR, for example, for a 50-year-old is 220 minus 50, or 170 beats per minute. But your MPHR can vary by as much as 10 to 15 beats per minute compared to your actual Maximum Heart Rate. Invariably, an exercise tolerance test is a better predictor of your actual Maximum Heart Rate.
TRAINING HEART RATE
Your Training Heart Rate is the range in which your heart should be beating during exercise to get optimum aerobic conditioning.
For moderate intensity, aim for a Training Heart Rate that is 60 to 75% of your Maximum Heart Rate.
For vigorous intensity, aim for a Training Heart Rate that is higher than 75% of your Maximum Heart Rate.