For people diagnosed with coronary heart disease, the Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation Program has been shown to stop the progression of the disease, and even reverse it. It’s the only lifestyle change program proven in randomized controlled clinical trials to reverse the progression of coronary heart disease.

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque, a waxy substance, builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can narrow the arteries, making it more difficult for the heart to get much needed oxygen and blood. The resulting blockage can cause blood clots, heart attack, or stroke.

What is cardiac rehab?

Traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs generally include physical activity, education, and counseling. Most programs are typically 36 hours of exercise training with education on a variety of lifestyle factors that can improve heart health. 

How is the Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation Program different?

The Dean Ornish program has a total of 72 hours of rehabilitation, compared to the 36 hours of a traditional program. The program is designed to focus equally on each of four lifestyle aspects that improve your heart health. Classes meet twice weekly for nine weeks, with four hours in each session. Classes are offered in mornings and afternoons.

Each four-hour session dedicates one hour to each of the four lifestyle aspects of improved heart health:

  1. Nutrition: learning to maintain a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Attendees even enjoy a plant-based meal during the session. 
  2. Activity: supervised exercise training.
  3. Stress management: learn techniques to lower stress in your life, such as yoga and meditation.
  4. Emotional support: guided group sessions of peer support.

Education plays a key role in the program. Medical professionals, including registered nurses, exercise physiologists, social workers and behavioral therapists, registered nutritionists, and a stress management specialist all work together. This approach helps patients improve their heart health by focusing on the various areas that need to be addressed.

What are the benefits of the Dean Ornish cardiac rehab program?

The program has been shown to improve health and reduce cardiac risk in patients with cardiac disease by:

  • Lowering LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. 
  • Decreasing the frequency and severity of angina.
  • Reducing body weight.
  • Decreasing depression. 
  • Reducing cardiac hospitalizations, heart attacks, emergency room visits, angioplasties, or bypass surgery.
  • Decreasing the number of medications taken for heart disease. 
  • Helping to improve other health conditions, such as diabetes.

Almost 90 percent of participants are still following the lifestyle changes one year later. By contrast, only 30 to 50 percent of those prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs are still taking them after only six months. For many, committing to a plant-based diet is key for success.

Who can be referred for the program?

A referral from a physician is needed. Patients who have had a heart attack within the last 12 months, have had a heart valve repair and/or replacement, cardiac bypass surgery, a heart transplant, coronary stent placement, or stable angina may benefit from the program.

The Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute is the first in New England to offer the Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, exclusively in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. For more information on how the program, call us at 401-793-5810 or visit us online.

Wen-Chih "Hank" Wu, MD

Dr. Wen-Chih Wu, MPH, is director of the Lifespan Cardiovascular Wellness and Prevention Center at the Lifespan Cardiovascular institute and specializes in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.