Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women?

What is particularly sobering is that a report a few years back by the National Research Council and the Institutes of Medicine found that the U.S. is unhealthier than 16 other developed countries, ranking worse in nine categories, including, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

I believe the main reason why we are not winning the war on heart disease is all about lifestyle, while the approach in the U.S. overwhelmingly focuses on pharmacotherapy.

Fortunately, there is a ton of information at our disposal on how to have a healthier heart — from worldwide population-based studies as well as from clinical outcome-based approaches.

Dr. Ornish solved the problem over 20 years ago in his book Reversing Heart Disease.

Today, Dr. Ornish trains practitioners across the country, which is even reimbursed by Medicare due to the proven results and cost effectiveness compared to doctors’ visits, medications and surgeries.

The Ornish Spectrum focuses on four core lifestyle approaches; diet and supplements, activity level, stress management, and how much love and support you have and give.

Then there are the population-based studies. Studies on centenarians, as well as people living in the Blue Zones (the areas around the globe where people live longest and healthiest,) and of course, the Mediterranean lifestyle diet.

As you will see, the research lines up with Dr. Ornish’s work, which is not coincidentally.

Among surveyed centenarians, 89% say they communicate with a family member or friend every day, 67% pray, meditate or engage in some form of spiritual activity, 51% say they exercise almost daily and 71% say they get eight hours or more of sleep each night. More than 80% of centenarians say they regularly consume a balanced meal.

I like to refer to the Mediterranean Diet as a lifestyle diet, because the associated lifestyles play an important role, falling in line with the factors mentioned above.

In a study out of Harokopio University in Greece, researchers studied the daily dietary habits of 2,500 Greek adults between the ages 18 and 89 for ten years. Researchers then reviewed each participant’s in-depth survey regarding their medical records, lifestyle, and diet, and compared these to the surveys they administered at the start of the study and five years into it. The researchers graded participants on their level of intake for 11 Mediterranean friendly food groups.

The researchers found that those who scored in the top-third of closely following the diet were 47% less likely to develop heart disease over the 10-year follow-up period as compared to those who did not closely follow the diet. Adherence to the diet, shown to be more protective than physical activity, and the Mediterranean diet benefits all age groups.

As you can see, the information is there, we just need to follow it. What if we began incorporating healthy dietary habits, moving regularly, taking steps to manage stress, and reach out to others?

Just imagine the improvements we would see?