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Heart to Start is helping people become fitter, healthier versions of themselves

COURTESY: PROVIDENCE HEALTH AND SERVICES - Dr. Beckerman with Dave Underriner, Providence Oregon chief executive. Underriner is an avid runner and participates in the Heart to Start teams goal race each year.New Year's resolution time is a bit away, but an area cardiologist is hoping you'll get inspired to run or walk a 5K, 10K or a half marathon.

Even if you're a couch potato, Providence Health and Services is offering Heart to Start, a community exercise program in its fifth year. "We meet on a weekly basis throughout the winter season and spend time together, exercise together, learn together, support one another and cheer each other on towards our race in February," says Dr. James Beckerman, medical director of cardiac prevention and wellness at Providence Heart Institute.

"We started the program in 2012 in order to meet what we saw as a need for people who wanted to be more active, but didn't feel as though there was a safe and supportive environment that would be inclusive of all abilities and experience," Beckerman said. "So we created it. It's been so inspiring to see our team members succeed not only in completing their race, but, even more so, in starting a healthier lifestyle."

This free program is available to anyone in the community. You do not have to be on the Providence health plan. "We welcome everybody," Beckerman said, noting team members from as far away Reedsport, Denver and Seattle have participated. "We meet every Wednesday night, at 6 p.m. (at the Lincoln High School track)," Beckerman said. "Our workouts generally last approximately a half hour. We frequently have guests. Because we are health care providers, we think it's important to educate people at every opportunity." Throughout the event, you'll hear from dietitians, exercise physiologists and sports medicine experts.

BECKERMAN"We also try to make it fun with trivia contests," Beckerman added. "This year, we're also introducing an element of paying it forward. We strongly believe in charity. One of the missions of our organization at Providence is providing support to the poor and vulnerable. Part of this season of Heart to Start is giving people the opportunity to participate in some community service opportunities."

The program wraps up Sunday, February 12, with the Providence Heart to Start 5K/10K run/walk at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. Providence notes that while the 13-week training program is free, there is a registration fee for the Feb. 12 race.

This 13-week program is particularly welcome in the community, considering the number of number of people who are out of shape or obese.

"Our risk for heart disease is so related to the choices that we make," Beckerman said. "As we understand more, exercise (fitness level) is really one of the greatest predictors of cardiovascular risk. This means, that as health care providers, we owe our community more than merely prescriptions and procedures."

Beckerman added, "We owe them participation together in activities that can improve their health. That's why it's so important for this program - we're all working toward the same goal together."

It's the type of program that can prove beneficial for the body.

"Exercise reduces the risk of nearly all chronic diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, dementia, sleep apnea)," he said. "Regardless of a particular person's particular health concerns, in the vast majority of cases, being more active will help lower their future risk."

If you're concerned about starting an exercise program, such as running, it's a good idea to check with your primary care doctor. Beckerman said, "For people who are currently sedentary or do have heart disease, for example, we do think it's important to communicate with your health care provider and make sure an exercise program is appropriate for where you're starting from."

Beckerman sees a wide range of participants in the Providence Heart to Start Program.

"We welcome everybody," he said. "We have participants who have run marathons. We have participants who become fatigued after walking a few times around the track. We're all out there together. All of us are working to become fitter, healthier versions of ourselves."


1. Heart disease is an equal-opportunity epidemic

As the No. 1 killer in the United States and increasingly in the developing world, heart disease is one of the most preventable causes of death. It's also the most costly cause of hospitalizations.

Some ethnic populations, such as people of African or South Asian descent, may be at greater risk than others, but more than 80 percent of heart disease cases can be prevented through targeting risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure.

2. Women can experience heart disease differently

People may associate heart disease and heart attacks with the sudden onset of clutching chest pain. Yet studies show that women, more than men, might experience more subtle symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, back pain or even significant fatigue. New symptoms or a change in symptoms is a good reason to seek medical attention.

3. Quitting smoking now will reduce heart-disease risk

Many smokers believe that quitting tobacco after many years of smoking isn't worth the effort; that the damage has been done.

But studies suggest that quitting smoking and eliminating nicotine exposure can reduce the risk of heart disease to that of a nonsmoker after only two years.

4. Coronary stents do not prevent heart attacks

Many patients and even some doctors believe that placing an elective coronary stent will reduce the risk of future heart attacks and death. But results of study after study have shown that while stents can improve symptoms, they often do not prevent future heart attacks or even death. This is because heart attacks and fatal events are typically caused by ruptured plaque in unsuspected coronary arteries — that is, where blockages are less than the 70 percent threshold that cardiologists use when deciding to place a stent.

However, lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising and eating right, can reduce risk. A wealth of data shows that statins and blood pressure medications reduce risk, too.

5. Sex after a heart attack is probably OK

One of the greatest concerns after a cardiac event is that sexual activity will significantly increase the risk of another heart attack. The good news is that this is rare. Cardiologists consider sexual activity to be in a similar risk category as moderate exercise, and it is typically safe six weeks after a heart attack.

However, symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, should prompt an evaluation. As I've written before, most patients will not bring up this issue with their physician - it's our job to start the conversation.

— Dr. James Beckerman, Providence Health and Services

Scott Keith is a freelance writer with the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, contact Scott at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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