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Patient Education

Lifestyle Changes

There are four basic ways to correct cardiovascular conditions. They are lifestyle changes, the use of medication, interventional heart catheterization procedures, and finally, surgery on the heart itself. Of these means of intervention, making changes in our lifestyle is by far the most desirable option.

The particular condition or cardiac risk factors present will dictate the recommended changes in one's lifestyle. For example, dietary changes and adhering to a regimen of aerobic exercise are the most appropriate responses to high levels of cholesterol in the blood stream. Most everyone can benefit from reducing stress in his or her life. The effects of quitting smoking can bring about dramatic improvement in our health.

The following are the most common lifestyle changes that we can make to improve our health:


The old saying, "You are what you eat," rings true for individuals with cardiovascular disease or trying to control their cardiac risk factors. Meals from fast food chains and processed food tends to be unusually high in fat, calories, and sodium - all of which can have detrimental effects upon our health.

If our goal is to lose weight, a diet that is low in fat and idle calories is desirable. When high serum cholesterol levels demand attention, a diet low in fat and high in natural fiber, such as fruits and vegetables, is in order. When high blood pressure is present, a diet low in sodium may be helpful.


The vast majority of Americans lead a sedentary lifestyle. Most occupations do not provide any degree of cardiovascular conditioning. Far too few of us participate in sports or engage in a regular routine of exercise. When combined with excessive fat and caloric intake, the results can be high levels of serum cholesterol and even obesity.

There are marvelous benefits from a routine of aerobic exercise. Energy levels and stamina increase. Cardiovascular conditioning improves. Even unwanted pounds can be shed when exercise is combined with a reduded fat and calorie diet.

The positive effects of exercise do not happen overnight. It does take time and perseverance to see the benefits.

If you have not been exercising regularly, it is a good idea to seek the advice of a physician before beginning a program. Remember to start gradually with whatever form of exercise you undertake. Something as simple as walking can have marvelous benefits. The exercise program you chose does not need to be difficult or elaborate. It just needs to elevate your heart rate for at least twenty minutes, three times per week.

Willis-Knighton’s Fitness & Wellness Centers have locations on all four hospital campuses and offer a wide array of exercise options as well as assessments, guidance and monitoring by trained and degreed fitness instructors. Individual exercise as well as a large variety of classes are available with your membership. Outpatient cardiac rehabilitation classes are also available for those who have had a cardiac procedure and would benefit from medically monitored rehabilitation before reentering regular exercise programs.

Stress Reduction

Modern life brings with it stress that is far different from that experienced by our ancestors. The body reacts to stress by the production of adrenaline. This hormone prepares our body to cope with danger through "fight or flight." Adrenaline increases our heart and breathing rate, preparing the body to fight for survival or flee from danger. Since these responses to the stress of life are inappropriate, we bear the consequences of our bodily processes being accelerated by stress.

To minimize the effect of our body's reaction to stress, we have two very basic options. They are to either remove the stress or minimize the reaction to it. More often than not, the only option is to learn to control one's reaction to stress. Relaxation techniques may be useful.

Smoking Cessation

There are few habits as addicting and difficult to stop as smoking. It is undeniable that smoking as a negative effect on most systems of the body and leads to decreased life expectancy. The effects of smoking are most pronounced on the cardiovascular system.

The impact of smoking over time is cumulative; but luckily, so too are the effects of quitting. Within hours of smoking the last cigarette, there are measurable changes in the body that are consistent with improving health. The longer one remains smoke-free, the greater are the positive effects. It is not always possible to reverse all of the effects of smoking; however, the positive impact of quitting makes it worth the effort.

For those who wish to stop tobacco use, Willis-Knighton provides its Tobacco Cessation Program that is based upon the Mayo Clinic model with positive outcomes, and giving you the tools you need for conquering the habit and living a tobacco-free life.