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“Less Stress, More Love.” A Proven Program that Heals Hearts

Listen to “Less Stress, More Love.” A Proven Program that Heals Hearts

Dr Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease is the first scientifically proven program to ‘undo’ (reverse) heart disease by making comprehensive lifestyle changes, and it is now available for state insurance in the US.

The authors of this program are married couple Dean and Ann Ornish. Dean is a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and Ann is vice president of the Institute for Preventive Medical Research in the United States. They claim that their method can reverse chronic diseases including the development of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol in the blood), depression, anxiety, and early prostate cancer. In his new book, Ornish describes the methodology and results.

The Ornish Program at a Glance

Diet

The Ornish’s diet focuses on lowering intake of high-fat animal proteins, including red meat, pork, and full-fat dairy products while increasing the consumption of complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nonfat dairy products, soy products, and egg whites. Alongside this, they suggest eating moderate amounts of fish, skinless chicken, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Exercise

The program recommends minimising the amount of inactivity, increasing the general level of activity, and making exercise an integral part of daily life. It also suggests that you should include at least 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, with frequency, intensity, time, and type adjusted according to individual needs.

Stress management

Stress management techniques include stretching, relaxation, breathing, imagery, and meditation. Practising stress management techniques, developing a relaxation routine, locating a safe and quiet place to relax, finding a good time of the day for relaxation, and creating a positive mental attitude about relaxation are all key.

Social support

The Ornish’s state that you should try to emphasise one hour of social support each week with goals such as improving communication skills and becoming more aware of one’s feelings. The activities they suggest include spending more time with friends and family, group support, confession, forgiveness, redemption, compassion, altruism, service, psychotherapy, touching, commitment, and meditation. As Dr Orish says, “In short: eat well, move more, less stress, more love. Bingo! ”

An Alternative Approach to Managing Heart Disease

The philosophy that it’s better to prevent or even reverse disease through lifestyle than by invasive, costly, and ineffective procedures and medications is at the root of Ornish’s program for battling heart disease.

Ornish refers to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study which found that angioplasties and stents do not prevent heart attacks or prolong life for patients who are not in the middle of having a heart attack, which accounts for about 90 – 95% performed procedures.  

Ornish also notes that similar results have been found with bypass surgery.

Ornish stresses that “On one hand, the conventional approach is bypass surgery and angioplasty, which costs tens of billions of dollars every year and [is] dangerous and largely ineffective, yet the simple choices that we make in our lives each day—like what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get, whether or not we smoke, and how much social support we have in our lives—can prevent or even reverse this disease,”

What sets the Ornish’s program apart is its holistic take on lifestyle. The program looks beyond the plate to other vital issues such as stress reduction, exercise, and social support, elements that are missing in many diet programs today.

Dr Ornish notes that “There are people that think it’s all diet or it’s all exercise. They’re both important, but stress management is important as well. First of all, it’s very hard to motivate people to change their behaviour. We’ve asked people, “Why do you smoke, overeat, drink too much, or abuse yourself?” And they say, “It helps me get through the day.”

“What’s the No.1 prescribed medication last year?” asks Ornish. “It’s antidepressants, more so than statin drugs, because one of the real epidemics of our culture isn’t just heart disease, it’s depression. It’s important that we, particularly now with our economic meltdown, help manage stress. People are abusing themselves more than ever because of the stress that so many people are experiencing. It’s important that we really give our patients not just information but a few minutes with them. Help them understand that we care about what’s going on in their lives.”

According to Robin Stein, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Diseases at Penrose St. Francis, about a thousand people were undergoing rehabilitation every year. However, after introducing the Ornish program, they noticed a significant improvement in patient status.

At the end of the first trial, the insurance company Mutual of Omaha found that almost 80% of those who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery or stenting for medical reasons, were able to avoid the operation by using the Ornish’s program. Their conditions improved, and the savings reached $30,000 per patient.

As a result of another trial, the insurance company Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield revealed that in the first year of their experiment, the program cut healthcare costs by 50%. This saving effect lasted at least 3 years. Only 1% of patients who changed their lifestyle using the Ornish’s program incurred expenses of more than $25,000, while in the control group the proportion was 4%.

Back in 2010, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services introduced rehabilitation under Dr Ornish’s program. This was the first time a government agency had begun to cover lifestyle changes with Medicare insurance to reverse heart disease. Today, many commercial insurance companies fund the Ornish program for a range clients, not only those at risk of heart disease.

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