Start getting more exercise by walking, experts say.
Start getting more exercise by walking, experts say.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, killing 600,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Oregon, Providence is the top provider of cardiovascular services, serving more than 13,000 people a year.

Here are some tips from Providence experts to keep your heart healthy:

• Of course, quit smoking. A new study suggests that individuals may be able to significantly improve their heart health and raise the level of good cholesterol in their body when they stop smoking.

• People often think food without the flavor of salt is bland. However, by replacing herbs and spices for salt in your cooking, you may be able to significantly reduce your sodium intake and lower blood pressure. When cooking, use three parts fresh herb to one part dried herb.

• Dr. James Beckerman, a cardiologist, suggests that you ask your doctor if you are in shape to increase exercise. Then, step out for a walk. See if you can go for about 20 minutes at a moderate pace. If that feels good, take another walk two days later. This time, try to add a few one-minute intervals of slow, gentle jogging, alternating with walking. So far, so good? Over the next 12 weeks, continue that pattern, increasing your pace and distance and gradually tipping the balance so that you are jogging more than walking, and finally running the full distance.

• Find an activity that you enjoy so that you will want to continue it long-term. Better yet, find a few activities to mix it up and keep boredom at bay. This is a great way to work different parts of your body as well.

• Set clear goals and reward yourself (not with chocolate!) when you reach those goals. Looking forward to a reward is a great motivator when you are starting an exercise program. Consider treating yourself to a massage or an afternoon just for you once you reach one of your fitness goals. Your goals should be easy to reach initially.

Providence St. Vincent Medical Center has a new cardiovascular center for treatment, surgery and prevention and research.
The center is devising better ways to prevent cardiovascular failure.

John Bartels, a 76-year-old Portlander, has dealt with congestive heart disease for more than 20 years. He had two open-heart surgeries and then a valve started filling up with calcium deposits. He felt exhausted and was losing his memory.

In January, Providence surgeons operated but this time inserted a mechanical heart valve with less cutting and sawing. He was ready to leave the next day, and in a few months could lift weights and jog.

The new center at St. Vincent offers a unified spot for patients to get their Pacemakers and blood checked, or see a nutritionist and attend a cardiac rehab class.

Heart patients could not prevent past problems, but can prevent further disease.

Providence Medford Medical Center last year opened a cardiac rehabilitation center. Until now, heart patients rarely use such services, despite their benefit in keeping people vibrant and even preventing death.  

Cardiac rehabilitation boosts physical strength and endurance by 20 to 50 percent, an improvement that could determine whether a patient is able to return to an active life. Patients who attend all of the 36-session rehabilitation more than a 50 percent less likely to have further problems.

The risk of cardiac rehabilitation is low: one cardiac arrest for every 120,000 patient-hours of exercise and one death in every 750,000 patient-hours of exercise. Even those 65 years of age and older, as well as heart failure patients, typically respond well and can safely participate in regular exercise.