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Profile: Dr. Dean Ornish - Pioneering Yoga as Lifestyle Therapy
It has long been recognized that a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating foods that lower cholesterol and engaging in regular exercise to help lower blood pressure naturally, may help reverse some of the factors involved in causing heart disease. What is less commonly recognized, however, is that the very same health habits that lower blood pressure and cholesterol naturally don't just prevent heart disease; they may actually reverse the progression of heart disease, along with other chronic conditions.
This was the ground-breaking discovery of Dr. Dean Ornish, a pioneer in research on the benefits of lifestyle medicine in general and the use of yoga as therapy for chronic disease more specifically. For the past three decades, Dr. Ornish has conducted numerous studies demonstrating that holistic lifestyle changes can not only affect the precursors of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol naturally, but can even turn around coronary conditions without prescription medications or surgery.
Dr. Ornish's work first received national attention in the early 1990’s, when he was the first to show that a comprehensive lifestyle program, including a low fat, low cholesterol diet and regular yoga therapy for heart disease, did more than just prevent heart disease: it actually reversed it.
The study divided patients with coronary artery disease into two randomized groups. One group followed the holistic lifestyle program, which incorporated yoga therapy, a low-fat, low cholesterol diet, and meditation. Participants in this group were also required to abstain from smoking during the one year course of the study. The control group simply followed standard medical advice.
At the end of the 12 month study, results showed that the group which engaged in natural ways to lower blood pressure and cholesterol had fewer cardiac episodes than the control group. Even more significantly, the clogging of their arteries had actually begun to reverse. The control group, which was prescribed drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, not only failed to improve, but even suffered further degeneration.
A slew of studies over the years have confirmed Dr. Ornish's initial results, even showing that adopting other lifestyle habits, such as meditation to reduce stress, can also be a means to not just lower blood pressure naturally, but even reverse the progression of heart disease.
Dr. Ornish's work is an important reminder of how much we can do to take our health in our own hands. A diet rich in cholesterol lowering foods, regular exercise and/or yoga therapy, and even just finding ways to cut back on stress in our lives can not only help us prevent disease, but may turn the clock back on conditions we have already developed.