Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Eliminate Heart Disease by Doing 3 Things Study
At least 80% of all heart disease is totally unnecessary. Indeed, according to a recent study, if you can do the three things discussed in the article to eliminate heart disease, most drug companies, hospitals, and cardiologists would be out of business.
This past weekend I spoke at a conference sponsored by my hospital. Sadly, the message that was conveyed is that heart disease is inevitable. Thus, taking preventative medications is critical to preventing the number one killer in the U.S.
Jeff didn’t buy into this philosophy either.
By age 45, Jeff’s cardiologist insisted that he take 5 medications to treat his diabetes, high blood pressure, and his heart condition called atrial fibrillation. Believing there must be another way, he came to me for a second opinion.
Jeff really did need those five medications at the time. He had some serious lifestyle changes that he had to make first before we could ever think about getting him off of medications.
At the end of his initial visit, Jeff asked “Do you think my weight caused these problems?”
“Probably,” I said.
“Is it too late?” he asked.
“The good news is that if you act quickly, we can probably reverse everything before permanent damage occurs,” I said.
Jeff clung onto this hope of a life free of medications and the goal to eliminate heart disease. I then shared with him the following results from the recently published LEGACY Study.
Eliminate Heart Disease: The LEGACY Study
The idea to do the LEGACY Study was the brainchild of my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, from the University of Adelaide Hospital in Australia. As there are a limited number of Australian cardiologists specializing in heart rhythm disorders, Dr. Sanders really didn’t have any other options to treat the thousands of patients with a heart condition called atrial fibrillation.
Indeed, his patients often had to wait a year or longer for procedures to correct atrial fibrillation when medications were no longer effective. Suspecting that the obesity crisis was causing this atrial fibrillation epidemic, Dr. Sanders came up with a plan.
What would happen if he offered his patients a healthy dose of “lifestyle medicine” while they waited for their procedures? This lifestyle medicine experiment then led to what was later known as the LEGACY Study.
LEGACY Study Goal
The real goal of the LEGACY Study was to use lifestyle medicine to lose both the weight and the atrial fibrillation heart condition. To test this approach, Dr. Sanders enrolled 355 of his patients.
With lifestyle medicine, he collected a group of patients that were able to lose an average of 36 pounds. He then followed these patients for five years to see what would happen.
What a 36 Pound Weight Loss Can Do
The results of the LEGACY Study caught most of the cardiology community by complete surprise. Below are the 7 things that happened with just a 36 pound weight loss.
1. 46% of Atrial Fibrillation Patients Went into Remission
Probably the most remarkable finding of this study was that a 36 pound weight loss gave you a fifty fifty chance of making atrial fibrillation go away without drugs or procedures. This finding went against the prevailing wisdom that atrial fibrillation only gets worse with time.
2. Blood Pressure Dropped by 18 Points
In this study, a 36 pound weight loss dropped blood pressure by 18 points. Considering that the typical blood pressure medication only lowers blood pressure by about 8 points, this is the equivalent of getting off of two blood pressure lowering medications.
3. Inflammation Dropped by 76%
To live a long and healthy life, you can’t “rust” out your body. Inflammation causes rusting and aging of all your organs. In this study, a 36 pound weight loss translated into a 76% reduction in inflammation as measured by the blood test, C-reactive protein.
4. 88% of Diabetes Went into Remission
Next to smoking, diabetes is one of the biggest causes of a short life. Using the Australian diagnosis criteria for diabetes, 88% of Dr. Sanders’ patients with diabetes went into remission with just a 36 pound weight loss.
5. LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides Dropped by 16% and 31%
A 36 pound weight loss also had a profound LDL and triglyceride lowering effect. Dr. Sanders observed a 16% LDL (bad cholesterol) and 31% triglyceride reduction. Remarkably, nearly half of their patients were able to get off their statin cholesterol lowering medications.
6. 18% Reduction in Echocardiogram Abnormalities
Weighing more than you should puts a big strain on your heart. Over time, the heart enlarges and the walls thicken. Fortunately, Dr. Sanders observed that many of these abnormalities seen on echocardiogram could be reversed with weight loss.
7. Happiness Increased 200%
While all measures of heart disease were reversed with weight loss, probably the most striking finding was that happiness, or sense of well-being, increased by 200% in this study! Indeed, probably the best thing that comes from a healthy dose of lifestyle medicine is that you feel great, get off of medications, and no longer have to worry about heart issues.
The 3 Simple Steps to Reversing Heart Conditions
Reversing heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, echocardiogram heart abnormalities, and boosting happiness seems almost too good to be true. But it’s not. I’ve seen these same results with my own patients.
How did they do it? Below are the 3 simple things Dr. Sanders had his patients do.
1. Have a Purpose or Goal to Your Life
You have to have a purpose, goal or reason to make changes. Otherwise, there is probably no way you’ll ever be able to resist the temptation of junk food and inactivity.
In the LEGACY Study, Dr. Prash had each of his patients meet with a counselor. This counselor, helped them to see the big picture and come up with a motivating goal.
To replicate their results, you will also need a strong purpose, goal, or reason to make changes. For most of my patients, their goal is to be there for their families. They don’t want to be a burden or die young.
2. Environmental Programming
Next, Dr. Prash had his patients take control of everything around them. No longer would they let the path of least resistance rule their lives.
Environmental programming could look like something as simple as eliminating all junk food from your home or putting exercise equipment into your living room. By reprogramming your environment, you never need to suffer from temptations again.
As part of environmental programing, Dr. Sanders had each of his patients come up with a meal and exercise plan. While this advanced preparation, it prevented people from eating whatever was quick or skipping a workout due to a lack of time or fatigue.
With their meal plan, people could basically eat anything they wanted as long as it wasn’t sugar or anything that behaved like sugar in their bodies. In other words, they only ate low glycemic foods.
To eat “low glycemic,” means you have to cut out processed carbohydrates. In other words, if you choose to eat grains they have to be intact grains which are low glycemic.
An intact grain is a grain that looks like what it did on the plant. It isn’t processed. There is no flour as grain flour is little more than just sugar. This is why most people gain weight even eating “healthy” whole wheat bread.
As part of their exercise plan, each person had to come up with a way to exercise 30 minutes each day. It didn’t matter what they did as long as they moved their bodies at least 30 minutes a day.
In this study, Dr. Prash had his patients record how well they adhered to their meal and exercise plan. Not only did they have to record everything they put into their mouths and every minute they exercised, but they also had to meet with their counselor on an ongoing basis.
Accountability is critically important for lifestyle medicine to work. This is why I recommend that my patients enroll in a structured program or have a personal trainer to help keep them accountable.
I have also found that daily tracking is important for people to succeed. This could be as simple as a food or exercise journal. It also could be an app like Lose It, My Fitness Pal, or Healthwatch 360.
Take Home Message
The key message of this article is that it is never too late to change. Regardless of your age, or how many medications you’re on, there is always hope.
Now is the time to eliminate heart disease. A healthy lifestyle is simply the best medicine.
This is what my patient, Jeff, also discovered. Like the patients in the LEGACY Study, he lost weight, adopted a healthy lifestyle, got off of 5 medications, and was fortunate enough to eliminate heart disease.
Indeed, you can eliminate heart disease provided you have a reason, you have reprogrammed your environment to eliminate temptations, and that you are accountable to some person or some thing.
What has been your secret to maintaining a healthy lifestyle? Please leave your comments and questions below. To help you make lifestyle medicine stick, please be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.