Making heart-healthy decisions: are you on autopilot?

by Carolyn Thomas

With rare exception (like the woman I witnessed at the Minneapolis airport pouring Coca-Cola into her child’s baby bottle), most thinking adults already know perfectly well what’s good and bad for our bodies. Yet we continue to smoke, eat too much (of the wrong foods) and exercise too little.  A recent study suggests that instead of swamping us with health reminders to eat better and exercise more, public health initiatives should actually try targeting the knee-jerk behaviours that are making us fatter and sicker.*

This study, published in the journal Science, found that part of the problem is that current public health initiatives are still focused on educating us about what decisions we should and shouldn’t be making to improve health outcomes – as if we are actively contemplating the pros and cons of making each decision.  Trouble is, most of us are not.  Continue reading “Making heart-healthy decisions: are you on autopilot?”

Is your doctor telling you to “meditate, eat veggies, walk, quit smoking?” If not, why not?

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

Newsweek once called his advice “the state of the art in psycho-cardiology” – a lifestyle regimen best known for the stringency of its ultra-low-fat diet, but with equal emphasis on exercise and stress reduction. And in The Atlantic, the famous preventive medicine guru Dr. Dean Ornish has written an essay called Why Health Care Works Better than Disease Care. Dr. O is founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute.

And his research studies were the first to claim that lifestyle changes can reverse cardiovascular disease without drugs.

He’s a rare duck: a man with the letters M.D. after his name who shuns the prescription pad and Big Pharma’s domination of what’s been called “marketing-based medicine”. Instead, he has long advocated preventing – and even reversing – heart disease without drugs or surgery through changing your lifestyle. He actually recommends two different diets:  the prevention diet and the reversal diet. The reversal diet is a very strict low-fat diet designed for people who have diagnosed heart disease.

Alas, so far I have yet to meet any heart patient who has been successful in sticking to this extremely restrictive diet for any significant length of time. Continue reading “Is your doctor telling you to “meditate, eat veggies, walk, quit smoking?” If not, why not?”

Heart-healthy weight: secrets of the always-slim

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

By middle age,  65% of women and 52% of men in Canada are considered overweight. And we know that being overweight has a direct result on our heart health. But an enviable minority stay slim throughout their whole lives. We hate those people . . . 

Are these types just genetically blessed? Or do they, too, have to work at keeping down their weight? To find out, the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed over 21,000 subscribers to Consumer Reports about their lifetime weight history and their eating, dieting and exercising habits.

Turns out that people who have never been overweight are not sitting around  in their La-Z-Boys scarfing down gooey Tim Hortons maple dips like I always imagined they could do if they felt like it.  Here’s what Consumer Reports did find out about how their always-slim respondents compared to people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off:  Continue reading “Heart-healthy weight: secrets of the always-slim”

Long distance running: safe for women’s hearts?

 

by Carolyn Thomas   ♥  @HeartSisters

Eighteen years ago, when my YWCA running group completed our very first Half-Marathon event, we all crossed the finish line together holding hands. And weeping. Tear-streaked race number bibs are how you can spot first-time distance racers.

There was interesting news for distance runners last month from the European Society of Cardiology meetings in Stockholm: distance runners appear to develop some transient heart changes during races, but overall these activities don’t seem to mean long-term cardiac harm for the vast majority of runners.

But there do seem to be some gender differences in heart changes, particularly among black women.   Continue reading “Long distance running: safe for women’s hearts?”

Women’s heart health advice: “Walk often, walk far!”

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

If you are one of those misguided sods who still believe in the exercise axiom: “No pain, no gain”  – you can stop reading right now.  The rest of you, rejoice!  According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, taking a long daily walk may be a better way to go to improve heart health, lose weight and feel better.

A randomized controlled clinical trial funded by the NHLBI compared two exercise programs for heart attack survivors:

  • 1.  Standard cardiac rehab exercise:  25-40 minutes of exercise three times per week at approximately 65-75% peak aerobic capacity. This included 25 minutes of treadmill walking and 8 minutes on 2 to 3 ergometers: cycle, rowing, or arm.
  • 2.  High-calorie expenditure exercise: longer duration but lower intensity,  more frequent exercise (45-60 minute sessions, but at just 50-60% peak aerobic capacity, 5-7 times per week).

Walking, rather than weight-supported exercises (such as cycling and rowing), was preferred to maximize calorie expenditure, which was targeted at 3,000-3,500 calories per week. The protocol was essentially to “walk often and walk far.”  All heart patients studied were considered overweight before starting the program. Each subject  also received 16 hours of group dietary counselling, and were given a target goal of consuming 500 calories per day less than their predicted maintenance calories.

What did their results show?  Continue reading “Women’s heart health advice: “Walk often, walk far!””