Healthy cardiac rehab specialist tries Ornish Lifestyle Medicine™

April 17, 2019

GOSHEN, Ind. – Matt Thomas is 31 years old, exercises regularly and has no history of heart disease in his family. Why then did the clinical coordinator and exercise physiologist for Goshen Heart & Vascular Center put himself through a 90-day trial of the Ornish Lifestyle Diet?

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine focuses on exercise, stress management, group support and a plant-based nutrition plan that excludes meat, fish and oils. People who follow the Ornish eating plan eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nonfat dairy products, soy and egg whites. It focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods that are naturally low in fat and refined carbohydrates.

Thomas had his reasons for following the Ornish eating plan. “First, I was worried that patients may not be able to follow the requirements. Second, I wanted to be able to relate to patients participating in the program. The first two weeks were the most difficult,” he said. “Since I was doing it on my own, I had to research nutritional requirements and food alternatives. However, as I learned more, discovered new food options and made some surprisingly simple changes, I found the program much easier to follow.”

Participants enrolled in Ornish Lifestyle Medicine have the support of a full team including a registered dietitian, group support specialist, stress management specialist, nurse, physician and exercise physiologist.

Having proven to himself that the eating plan is possible, it’s easier for Thomas to recommend the program to patients. Goshen Heart & Vascular Center offers both traditional cardiac rehabilitation and Ornish Lifestyle Medicine. Patients who participate in rehabilitation programs after having a heart attack or being diagnosed with a heart condition reduce their likelihood of having a second heart event like another attack or stroke. And, the good news is that most health insurance plans, including Medicare, cover the costs of cardiac rehabilitation and the Ornish program.

The first group of patients is graduating from the nine-week Ornish program April 18.  The next classes will begin April 23 (mornings), May 21 (afternoons) and June 25 (mornings). Up to 15 patients can be part of a class. Most patients are referred to the program by a healthcare provider.

Though Thomas has completed his 90-day trial of the Ornish program, he says, “I’m making more informed nutritional decisions. I’m encouraged that with the proper education and guidance anyone can be a part of the program and benefits it has to offer. Now that my trial is over, I am continuing on with my plant-based diet. I feel confident in recommending the program to others knowing that the resources are well developed to help them succeed.”

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Matt Thomas, Clinical Coordinator and Exercise Physiologist at Goshen Heart & Vascular Center, helps a patient in the cardiac rehabilitation program. When the center added the Ornish program, Thomas made a three-month commitment to the plant-based diet to ensure it was a feasible and realistic option for patients.