PUBLISHED: 5:42 PM on Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Cardivascular Disease prevention & recovery
Simple is hard. Try making the perfect pie-crust, or to-die-for smoked salmon. The recipes could hardly be simpler, but doing either well is hard.

How to avoid illness? Couldn't be simpler. Exercise. Regular exercise will significantly reduce the risk for the three top causes of death in the United States: diseases of the heart (28%), cancer (23%), and stroke (7%).

Justine Muench, Bartlett Regional Hospital's Staff Development Coordinator, formerly worked as the hospital's cardiac rehabilitation nurse, a position now held by Bob Chatfield. Both emphasize the importance of regular exercise as a means of lowering risk factors for cardiovascular and heart diseases.

At the top of both their lists of things that can lower risk of heart disease and stroke is to stop smoking. "Quitting smoking lowers blood pressure," Muench says.

"Definitely stop smoking," Chatfield says. "People think the damage is done. Why quit now? This is not true for blood vessel disease. In a year, your vessels will not know you have ever smoked. It is the only risk factor for heart and stroke that can be completely eliminated."

"Weight loss usually goes hand-in-hand with exercise," says Muench. "That and diet control will help get you out of the risk group."

Chatfield freely admits he carries around a risk factor - the spare tire of his mid-section. Considering that Chatfield works out regularly when he leads his patients through many of the exercise routines common to his program, the unanswered question is exactly what mid-section fat means.

The one thing we know to a near statistical certainty is that people with excessive mid-section fat are much more likely to be at risk of heart attack and stroke. Statistics are less revealing as to whether people who are fit and overweight are at less risk than those who are slender but do not exercise.

The confounding problem of the epidemic of obesity that has afflicted recent generations of Americans is that losing weight is exceedingly difficult. We seem to be hard-wired to pack on the extra pounds and equipped with metabolisms that resist weight loss.

Chatfield underlines the importance of regular exercise. "Exercise regularly: put that at the top," he insists. "When you look at the list of health conditions, physical activity of any sort and any level, it lowers risk. Exercise reduces the incidence of breast cancer - how does this correlate? The human body likes to move."

"Get your numbers under control," Muench says in regards to blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and body weight. "The problem is, people often feel fine, even with elevated blood pressure."

Exercise and weight control usually lowers the numbers that need to come down for good health, but if that doesn't work, Muench says that medication may be necessary.

To know your numbers is to know your level of risk. In all cases, consult your physician and ask for his or her advice as to the latest findings about ideal blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and body weight for your gender and age group.