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Ann Angell: It’s time to focus on heart health

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Since February is heart month, I thought It would be appropriate to write about heart disease — something that runs deep in my family.

Just because someone has heart disease in their family doesn’t always mean they too will develop heart disease. Heart disease can be caused by the choices we make — the food and drink choices, as well as our all-around lifestyle.

Someone with no heart disease in their family can still get it, and someone with a genetic predisposition for heart disease can avoid getting it.

A book I often use as a reference when I am curious about different health issues is “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. The intro to this book sold me. It’s the story of why Greger chose the path of medicine for his own career.

Greger’s grandmother had several heart bypass surgeries and was basically sent home by her doctor in a wheelchair with crushing chest pain at age 65 to die. The doctors could not do any more for her. Basically, a death sentence.

His grandmother happened to see Nathan Pritikin on “60 Minutes” stating that heart disease could be reversed by a plant-based diet, so she decided to go to California to the Pritikin Longevity Center, where she delved into this newfangled way of eating.

Within three weeks, she was up out of her chair and walking miles. After her dramatic lifestyle change, she lived 31 more years — to 96 years old!

Nathan Pritikin himself had heart disease and very high cholesterol. He was able to reverse both by cutting animal products from his diet. When he died, an autopsy revealed his arteries to be completely clean, even though he had suffered from heart disease and high cholesterol prior to the major change in the way he ate. The results of his own autopsy were even published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

We have known for some time that diet and disease are very closely linked, but the go-to cure for most diseases is a pill or three.

Why isn’t our dietary consumption ever analyzed as an option for change? I suspect it has to do with money. You never hear of the Kale and Broccoli Association visiting the doctor’s office to promote their goods. Or the Brown Rice and Legume Society leaving free samples.

Drug companies are ever-present influence in the medical world. And medicine can be a miracle for some. But that does not mean is the only miracle that can happen.

So we must educate ourselves. We cannot always count on others to help us. Raise your hand if you want to try to stay off all meds if possible. We should all want that. We should try to fix the problems that cause the heart disease or the high cholesterol, not just medicate it away.

We tend to give in way too easily. Heart disease and high cholesterol are almost non-existent in many countries where people eat mostly plant-based diets. Japan has a very low rate of heart disease. The Japanese consume a lot of fish and vegetables, eat smaller portions and are very active even into old age.

Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn are famous experts in the field of heart disease reversal. They all believe that a plant-based diet can change the path of heart disease and in many cases completely reverse it.

Be your own detective and research for yourself all the interesting data that I wish my mother had access to in 1981 when she died of heart disease. I wish my dad had it too, in 1976.

That brings me to exercise. Our heart is a muscle that we need to exercise to keep strong. Stay as active as you can throughout your entire life. Exercise can reduce inflammation in our bodies, which is a great insurance plan against coronary disease.

Things to remember that will help you to be healthier:

•  Control your blood pressure (exercise can do wonders).

• Keep your cholesterol within healthy parameters (diet can do wonders).

• Keep your weight down (diet and exercise can do wonders).

• Don’t smoke.

• Get plenty of sleep.

• Reduce your stress.

• Reduce your alcohol intake.

All familiar advice — but putting all that into motion can be a challenge. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, consult your physician about where to start. But also be a detective for yourself. Check the facts and alternatives. Commit long-term to exercise and changes in your diet. Take control and make you own decisions through education. And always keep moving.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer. She is fitness director for the YMCA of Calhoun County. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.