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Improving heart health

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology just published an entire edition, a “Special Focus Issue: Cardiovascular Health Promotion," with a plethora of studies that look at lifestyle changes to improve heart health. The timing couldn't be better; it's spring and we take our clothes off more and we start to notice our belging belly hanging over our belts, our butts sagging, cottage cheese in our thighs. What happened to those hard, washboard abs we used to have? The renewal of the spring makes us all want to get out and get healthy.

Here are the takeaways:

Mom always said to have a good breakfast. Not that you should ever doubt your mother, but now we have proof: In a nationally representative cohort, skipping breakfast was associated with a significantly increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. I always knew she was right when she warned me not to skip breakfast, just as I knew she was right about dating a certain girl in high school; I didn't always listen to Mom, at my own peril, of course.

OK, how about the best diet. Since heart failure is on the rise in this country, The REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) trial looked at the effect of different diets on the risk of developing heart failure. The plant-based diet was associated with a decreased risk of heart failure, while the Southern diet (fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, eggs, added fats and sugary drinks) was associated with an increased risk of heart failure.

Now, the plant-based diet has become all the rage these days. Even professional athletes are pushing it, and there seems to be a greater number of cardiologists who advocate this form of eating. After listening to a lecture earlier in the year on the benefits of a plant based diet, I decided to try it — after all, I love vegetables and beans quite a lot.

But when I woke up one night, all sweaty and bothered because I was dreaming of a gorgeous NY strip steak, I knew my veganism wouldn't last. My wife laughed and said, “I know you are getting old, my dear, when the only steamy thing you are dreaming about is a juicy steak."

So now I try to eat a mostly plant-based diet, but once every week or two, I cheat (on my diet) with the best, juiciest steak I can find.

How about all of us who spend our days with their rear end glued to our chair. This was taken up in the "45 And Up" trial. The bad news is that the more you sit, the more likely you are to die. The good news is that the risk of dying was lessened with exercise; with daily moderate exercise, say, walking at a brisk pace for one hour each day, the effect of sitting on mortality was eliminated entirely.

It's spring and time to get healthy, so have a good breakfast, eat less processed meats, sugary drinks, and fried foods, eat more plants, and exercise every day. Easy.


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