05/11/2011 03:55 pm ET Updated Jul 11, 2011

Heart Disease Prevention Through Lifestyle Modification

Last month brought a shower of cardiologists to New Orleans for the annual scientific convention of the American College of Cardiology. In my role of as a health care planning adviser, to hundreds of hospitals across the United States, I stay on the cutting edge of advances in chronic disease conditions that take the lives of so many Americans -- conditions like heart disease. I flew to New Orleans expecting to urgently report back to hospital clients and the general public about some great new discovery or intervention in the fight against heart attacks and strokes. What I found was something slightly more intriguing.

While I did not learn anything particularly groundbreaking in cardiovascular science, I did learn how to make a pretty good New Orleans Hurricane -- after all, alcohol in moderate quantities is good for the heart! More importantly, I stumbled into an amazing conversation with an inspirational cardiologist and a few of his colleagues in the lobby bar of the Canal Street Hilton.

Dr. Laurence Watkins, M.D., M.P.H., FACC has been a dedicated cardiologist for more than three decades, currently practicing in South Florida. Originally from Trinidad, he shared with me that he comes from a long line of long-lived people that value hard work, family loyalty and the beauty of nature as keys to good health. What he also shared is an opinion that I believe could change the future of cardiovascular medicine.

According to Dr. Watkins:

In the United States, people tend to externalize everything. We feel that everything happens to us by someone or something else. Look how we live vicariously through reality television or how devices like GPS and iPhones eliminate our need to remember anything. Patients with heart disease want to externalize their condition too. Americans typically don't want to internalize the responsibility for the cure. They just want something external to fix their hearts for them like a doctor, a pill, a surgery. Patients don't want to think about some of the reasons they might be sick in the first place, from lack of exercise and healthy diets to a heart 'broken' by a stress-filled and difficult life.

What would happen in the future of U.S. health care, if we educated and gave incentives to patients to internalize health and to take accountability for their own lifestyles in order to keep serious diseases at bay? What if we reduced insurance premiums for patients who are able to reduce stress and anger along with blood glucose levels and weight? It is indeed powerful to consider that if we were educated to look at the quality of our psycho-social, family and community lives, we might improve the quality of our health without expensive medicines and unnecessary medical procedures.

I am attending another conference on May 11 - 13 in Ft. Lauderdale -- HEARTCARING, presented by my own company, Spirit Health Group. Please visit us online as we consider the important dimension of non-traditional risk factors associated with heart disease: loneliness, lack of intimacy, anger, stress and lack of laughter. Dr. Watkins himself will be speaking amidst other industry leaders, as clinicians, cardiologists and health care executives from leading hospitals around the country gather to improve the practice of medicine to the heart.

Love, laugh and lighten up your life, all the way to a healthier heart!