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CEO Best Practice: Heart Health

Executive Tools

  • Executive Summary
  • Self Assessment Checklist

Expert Practices Articles

  • The CEO and Heart Health
  • Warning Signs: Do You Have Heart Disease?
  • Your Risk Factors: A Closer Look
  • By the Numbers: Cholesterol and Hypertension
  • Check-Ups and Tests
  • Exercise for Heart Health
  • Maintain a Healthy Diet
  • Actively Pursue Stress Reduction
  • Consider Lifestyle Changes
  • Reversing Heart Disease

Tools & Analysis

  • Dr. Jerry Kornfeld's Heart Quiz
  • What's Your Nutrition Knowledge?

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The CEO and Heart Health

As a group, CEOs are no different from the general population, according to Dr. Rice, but with one distinction: they have a very strong ability to deny their symptoms. "The biggest danger CEOs face is their own history of being able to push through difficult situations and come out on top," says Dr. Rice. "Therefore, they develop a sense of invulnerability."

But a group of Vistage members in Canada who participated in a study to improve their health proved that you can make the choice to change your lifestyle -- even as a busy CEO -- and reap the rewards. They exercised regularly, improved their eating habits, stopped smoking and actively worked on managing their stress. At the end of a year, their health improved by several measures, including a drop in resting heart rates and blood diastolic pressure.

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Warning Signs: Do You Have Heart Disease?

Waiting for "a sign" of heart disease before making your heart a priority can be a fatal mistake. For 40 percent of those who die from cardiac arrest, the heart attack itself was the first warning sign. For the rest of the population, warning signs include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain on exertion that goes away with rest
  • Pain or tingling that radiates to the shoulder -- usually on the left side -- and down the left arm or up into the neck
  • Pain that feels like tightness in the throat or neck
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, irregular heartbeat -- especially brought on by exertion

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Your Risk Factors: A Closer Look

Scientific research over the decades has established the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease: age, gender, heredity, high blood pressure, unfavorable cholesterol levels, lack of exercise, being overweight and having diabetes mellitus. A smoker's risk of a heart attack is more than twice that of a non-smoker.

It's important to learn about the risk factors, and weigh their importance in your life. But even if you appear to have none of them, you can't afford to be complacent because risk factors are tricky indicators. "We're seeing an increase in the numbers of people with heart disease who have no risk factors that we know of," says Dr. Rice.

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By the Numbers: Cholesterol and Hypertension

You should know your blood pressure and cholesterol readings, and monitor them regularly. (Your physician will tell you how often.) A blood pressure below 140/90 is normal. Optimal is 120/80.

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Check-ups and Tests

Annual check-ups are necessary to determine your heart health. Your physician can tell you the best schedule for your age. There are many tests available, depending upon your situation -- from stress tests to electrocardiograms, blood tests for cholesterol and full-body scans.

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Exercise for Heart Health

Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise on a daily basis, five to six days a week, may actually prevent heart disease. The average person can raise HDL cholesterol levels five to 10 points with exercise. But you can't "bank" exercise. What you did three weeks ago won't help you today.

Exercising at 60-75 percent of your maximum exertion level is best. For an easy gauge, Australians call this "lightly puffing."

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Maintain a Healthy Diet

The American Heart Association recommends a balanced daily diet, including six or more servings of breads, cereals, pasta and starchy vegetables; five servings of fruits and vegetables; two to four servings of skim milk, or low-fat dairy products and up to six cooked ounces of lean meat, fish or poultry.

The closer the food is to the way it comes in nature, the better. Apples are better than applesauce. Applesauce is better than apple pie.

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Actively Pursue Stress Reduction

Symptoms of stress may include a wide variety of general complaints, including insomnia, headache, GI problems, muscle aches, back pain, increased irritability, high blood pressure, skin rashes, anxiety, and a general feeling of not being in good health. The most dangerous symptoms in terms of their association with heart disease are anger, hostility, and feelings of constant time constraints.

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Consider Lifestyle Changes

But you can significantly reduce the levels of stress you feel. The following strategies have been proven to help: early recognition of stress; a monitoring system, which includes encouraging your spouse, children, friends, peers and employees to tell you when they see signs of stress; exercise, one of the best ways to immediately reduce stress; nutrition and supplements, meditation, relationships, music and the arts; and anger management.

Too many CEOs overlook play, solitude and significant relationships, which provide connectedness and perspective.

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Reversing Heart Disease

Following the Dr. Dean Ornish Plan to Reverse Heart Damage is a proven route to reversing heart damage -- but it should only be started under the supervision of a physician. Dr. Ornish prescribes a dramatic reduction in fat consumption -- no more than 10 percent of daily caloric intake from fat, as well as creating a lifestyle that integrates regular exercise, balance of work-play, meditation and strong, healthy relationships.

Don't wait for a crisis to force you to make the decision to change. Remember: You can reverse heart disease if you do it carefully. True lifestyle changes can dramatically improve health into your 80s, 90s and perhaps beyond.

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