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How to pamper your heart

April 6, 2012, 3:49 PM UTC

Our Weekly Read column features Fortune staffers’ and contributors’ takes on recently published books about the business world and beyond. We’ve invited the entire Fortune family — from our writers and editors to our photo editors and designers — to weigh in on books of their choosing based on their individual tastes or curiosities. In this installment, Lawrence A. Armour reviews Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart for Life! The Mayo Clinic Plan for Preventing and Conquering Heart Disease.

I usually go out of my way to avoid books with exclamation points in their titles, but Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart For Life! has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s a feel-good book in the true sense of the word, printed on heavy, glossy stock that’s nice to the touch and brings the four-color diagrams and photos to life.

For another, each chapter features individuals we can relate to who followed the authors’ advice and bounced back from serious heart conditions. Most important, the book has outstanding bloodlines. I visited the Mayo Clinic twice on assignments for Fortune (“Me & The Mayo,” July 21, 1997 and “The Checkup, Part II,” October 26, 1998), and my back, joints and overall health were prime beneficiaries. I came away from my trips to Rochester, Minnesota convinced that Mayo doctors knew what they were doing. Judging from this book, they still do.

Healthy Heart For Life! Delivers the obligatory quick-start program with a catchy title (“Eat 5, Move 10, Sleep 8”). It goes on to explain why eating five or more veggies a day, exercising for 10 or more minutes daily and getting eight hours of sleep a night are good ways to begin the battle against the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Major takeaways: Close to 80% of heart disease cases are preventable, and even small lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Dr. Martha Grogan, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who served as the book’s editor-in-chief, puts it this way: “Moving even 10 minutes a day for someone who’s been sedentary can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50%.”

Along the way, Dr. Grogan throws out another factoid that resonates: “Because more people have been able to identify and treat their risk factors, deaths from heart disease have fallen 50% in the last 30 years.”

The heart is just one part of a very large story, of course, but it’s key. When you lower your risk for heart disease, the book tells us, you lower your risk for everything from dementia, cancer, and diabetes to kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, and blindness.

The authors offer useful tips to take the drudgery out of eating and living right. When it comes to diet, for example, there’s no need to become a vegetarian or embrace everything in the produce department. Simply find the vegetables and fruit you like and stick to them. Another: Make it easier on yourself by going for food that requires little or no preparation, things like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes, bananas and apples.

Another piece of good advice: Set realistic expectations. “Trying to lose 40 pounds is a little like deciding you’re going to go out and make a million dollars,” says Dr. Donald Hensrud, one of the Mayo gurus on nutrition and preventive medicine. “Instead, concentrate on losing one pound at a time.”

The book contains detailed instructions on working out, but it also cuts to the critical quick: Choose exercises you enjoy, and focus on how good you feel when you exercise. The authors offer strategies to help quit smoking and manage stress. They cover blood pressure, cholesterol, medications, transplants, and bypasses, along with angina, coronary artery diseases, vascular disorders, arrhythmias, stroke, CPR, and more.

It’s all there, including a chapter with some appetizing, heart-healthy recipes. What’s really nice is that every page of Healthy Heart For Life! treats the reader like an adult. Example: “It’s okay to give up if you’re feeling discouraged. Everyone fails once in a while — just get back up and don’t lose sight of your goals.”

While we’re on the subject, I’ve run across two new paperbacks that are informative and fun to read. Despite the exclamation point in its title, Chuck Runyon’s Working Out Sucks! provides a series of solid how-tos for those who find it hard to move their butts off the couch. The second, Coffee is Good For You, by Robert J. Davis, cuts through the maze of conflicting food information (turns out oatmeal is good for you, low-fat cookies usually are not) and leaves the foodies among us with lots of interesting items to chew on.

However, we wouldn’t need to waste valuable time on any of these books if we used a little common sense. A well-known journal recently reported on a 22-year study of the soft-drink habits of 42,880 male health professionals, ages 40 to 75. After adjusting for smoking, exercise, and family history, the researchers found that men who drank one sugar-sweetened drink a day were 20% more likely to have had a heart attack than non-drinkers. Duh? Hate to say it, but it’s hard to see why that’s breaking news.

—Lawrence A. Armour is deputy editor of custom content for Fortune, Time, Money and Sports Illustrated.

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