Proper lifestyle prevents poor heart health

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, February 1, 2012

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BACK ON BEAT - Susan Rector, manager of the cardiac rehabilitation program at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur, works with Jim Brown of Springtown (front) and John Conrad of Bridgeport. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Three days a week recent heart patients pour into the workout area of Fit-N-Wise.

They range in age and appearance. Some can barely walk for more than a few minutes on a treadmill. Others are ready to go.

“We see heart patients that range from their 20s to their 80s,” Susan Rector said. “We work with a wide variety.”

Rector manages the cardiac rehabilitation program at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

“After someone has a heart procedure at the hospital, they are sent here,” Rector said. “We put them on a heart rehabilitation program.”

The patients all have something in common. They all suffered some type of heart trauma, be it a heart attack, congestive heart failure, bypass surgery, heart transplant or some other type of cardiac procedure, or they have heart disease. Afterward, they are sent to Rector and her staff to begin a three-month rehabilitation program. The program not only includes exercise, but also regulation of vital signs and education on how the heart functions and nutrition.

Most of the patients have something else in common. They could have prevented their current situation entirely. Only a small percentage of cardiac problems are genetic and unavoidable. Most can be tackled before they ever get started.

“A few of the cases we see are congenital, due to a hereditary factor, but you can even fight your genes to an extent,” Rector said. “But as long as people keep smoking, not exercising and eating at fast food restaurants, we have pretty good job security.”

It’s remarkable how basic it sounds to prevent traumatic, cardiac-related trips to the emergency room. It comes down to a few simple lifestyle choices:

  • 30 minutes of cardio a minimum of four times per week
  • incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into a diet, staying away from processed and packaged foods
  • find a way to quit tobacco

Emergency procedures don’t cure the heart.

“A stent is just a Band-Aid,” Rector said. “But exercise can actually reverse heart disease. It’s sort of like a Roto-Rooter effect on your vessels.”

Although the cardiac rehab program lasts three months, patients are encouraged to continue the diet and exercise regimen for life. The cardiac rehab team at Fit-n-Wise boasts 60 percent of patients continue to practice lifestyle changes a year later.

For some patients, their livelihood depends on reclaiming strength in their bodies and hearts.

“A lot of people in this area work in the oil field or on ranches,” Rector said. “They need to be able to lift 30 to 50 pounds or more on a regular basis. We help them achieve that.”

She added that local employers are good about allowing employees time to attend the rehab program.

Excuses plague the process of prevention like plaque in the arteries of the unhealthy.

“A lot of people go to the gym and expect to make up for 10 years of not exercising,” Rector said. “They expect to see results right away. But exercise is a lifetime goal.”

People cite a lack of time in the day. They want to watch television instead.

“Just put a treadmill in front of the TV,” she said. “Thirty minutes will go by before you know it.”

As for nutrition, time continues to play a role. It’s easier to eat out or microwave a packaged meal than prepare fresh foods. But imagine the time lost in hospitals and rehab once it’s too late for prevention.

For more information on prevention, visit the American Heart Association website at

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