A healthy lifestyle for 2024

A healthy lifestyle for 2024

HAMPTON, Va. — Making diet and lifestyle changes is part of many people’s New Year’s resolutions, but for others, it can be a matter of life and death.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. I had the opportunity to spend time with participants in a relatively new program working to change that.

It’s called the Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Program through Sentara Healthcare. It started just over a year ago at their Hampton CarePlex Hospitaland this is the company-wide pilot program.


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Pritikin’s goal is for participants to improve their health and wellness to reduce the progression or recurrence of the cardiovascular problems that led them to rehab in the first place.

Tom Morehouse participated in the program. Last year, right around this time, she knew something was wrong.

“I went to the doctor and he said, ‘You have severe aortic stenosis and we’re going to have to replace your aortic valve,'” Morehouse said. “So they did on Jan. 6, 2023, and right after that, I enrolled in rehab.”

The Hampton resident is one of the first to participate in the local Pritikin Program and his health has improved as a result. In fact, after his interview with me, he was off to play a round of golf.

While the Pritikin approach is a generally beneficial lifestyle for everyone, the program has qualifying conditions such as heart bypass surgery, stenting or angioplasty, angina and heart failure. One of the main ingredients is diet.

Dr. Petra Lynch is a cardiologist with Sentara Medical Group and regularly refers patients to this rehab center.

Pritikin program


Dr. Petra Lynch MD, Cardiologist Sentara Medical Group

“Pritikin in particular is so important because we realized in the 70s that diet is one of the most critical causes of heart disease,” said Dr. Lynch. “It’s the high fat intake that leads to the development of blockages in your heart.”

One of the three pillars of the Pritikin program is a heart-healthy diet. Participants learn to prepare meals, read food labels and make balanced choices.

Denise Keller is a registered dietitian and teaches courses in detoxification.

“[One] of the basic ingredients of the Pritikin diet [is] emphasizes whole foods and plant-based foods that are minimally processed,” she explained. “So lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, low added sugar, complex carbohydrates.”

It is not a completely vegetarian diet, but the preferred source of animal protein is fish for its omega-3 fatty acids. Chicken is also good, but red meat should be kept to a minimum. As you can imagine, a few more things should be off the menu.

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“There are foods that we call ‘stop foods’ that we will like, ideally, as little as possible,” Keller explained. highly saturated items like coconut, those types of foods that we would like to limit as much as possible.”

The Pritikin Diet and Exercise Program has been around since 1979. It was created by Nathan Pritikin, an engineer, inventor and nutritionist.

Pritikin has been studied in more than 100 peer-reviewed medical journals, but are there any downsides – like cost?

“I get this question a lot and I’d love to talk about it because I think it could be a misconception with some healthy eating,” Keller told me. “Beans and lentils and using canned food is fine. We’re talking about using canned foods without salt, and these are all very economical options, as well as very healthy options.”

In addition to the nutrition pillar, regular exercise and a healthy mindset complete the three pillars.


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The Sentara program lasts 12 weeks with participants showing up three times a week for cooking and nutrition classes, workouts and time with listening nurses and therapists. It’s all about progress – not perfection.

The patients of Dr. Lynch who have taken part finished strong.

“You wouldn’t know how many patients just thank me for putting them on the program,” Dr. Leeds. “Pritikin sees the patient as a whole, and once you realize you’re no longer a number in the system, you’re a statistic. at the American Heart Association, makes a difference to a patient.”

With the Pritikin plan sounding so great, I wondered more about the cost of the program and mentioned it to Donna Gagnon, registered nurse and cardiac rehab manager.

“Most insurance companies cover cardiac rehab,” Gagnon explained. “Before the patient starts, we review and make sure every item that their insurance company would require is complete so that we are able to communicate to the patient exactly what their insurance is. covers and what their co-payment will be, if any.”

Major cardiovascular events bring most people to the Pritikin program, but if you’ve had problems with your heart, asking your primary care doctor or cardiologist is always an option.

Pritikin program


Jewel Bass, Participating in the Pritikin Program

A major event was the impetus for Jewel Bass of Newport News to start Pritikin. While she had to be talked into going at first, she sure is grateful that she did.

Jewel had a very positive experience saying, “[It was] the best 12 weeks of my life because it changed my life… We may be alive but the way I feel better is because of the Pritikin Program. I love his principles. I finished the program and I’m continuing because it changed my life.”

Jewel told me she’s 65 and her goal is to make it to 100. We bet she’ll do just that.

Jewel was also kind enough to share with us one of her favorite Pritikin Diet recipes: chocolate mousse. Try it!

Pritikin recipe for chocolate mousse

Sentara Health Care Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation

Chocolate mousse recipe from Pritikin

While Pritikin is the foundation of the cardiac rehab program at Sentara in Hampton, it is also a healthy lifestyle plan for anyone, especially if you have a family history of heart disease. All the information and details you need about the Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Program through Sentara Healthcare can be found here.

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