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Behavioral Counseling Can Help Healthy People Lower Their Heart Disease Risk, Too

September 14, 2017

Heart disease is responsible for 1 out of every 3 deaths in the U.S., making it the leading cause of death in the country.

Previously, doctors have been urged to focus behavioral counseling on high-risk patients, including those who have risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. However, a panel of leading medical experts now says that even low and moderate-risk patients can benefit from behavioral counseling.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends that primary care doctors consider offering and referring adults who don’t have heart disease risk factors to behavioral counseling as a way to encourage them to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. The task force says existing research suggests there’s a small, but positive benefit when primary care doctors do this and that it could help prevent heart disease in this group, especially if someone is ready and willing to make changes to improve their health.

Behavioral counseling typically involves several sessions with a healthcare provider, where patients learn about healthy eating and exercise. These sessions are designed to empower individuals with the knowledge they need to take control of their health and to stick to habits that may prevent their risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. The panel says research has shown that behavioral counseling leads to improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduced waist circumference for up to a year and a lower body mass index (BMI), a measure of your weight in relation to your height. However, the panel didn’t find direct evidence that behavioral counseling actually led to fewer heart disease-related deaths or reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, which includes health issues such as heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm and heart valve problems that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Still, there’s no harm in undergoing behavioral counseling and learning how you can stick to a healthy lifestyle long term. We all know the basic ways to stay heart-healthy, including eating a balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein; relying on portion control; reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats and added sugar; and getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, (like walking, swimming or light jogging). However doing these things can be difficult for some people to put into practice, so getting advice from a trained healthcare professional or registered dietitian may give you the encouragement and resources you need to make positive changes to your lifestyle.

One person in America dies every 40 seconds from heart disease, so any steps we can take to prevent these deaths may be beneficial. Even if you get regular exercise and eat well most of the time, it never hurts to get a check-up and talk to your doctor about whether you could benefit from behavioral counseling. You just may discover new ways or simple changes you can make to improve your health.

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