What’s the Ornish Lifestyle, and Can It Help Reverse Your Heart Disease?


older couple on beach.Dr. Dean Ornish developed a lifestyle for healthy living that’s about much more than just dropping a couple pounds. It involves adopting a new way of living that has been clinically proven to improve your health and reduce symptoms of cardiovascular disease. The lifestyle includes four essential pillars: nutrition, stress management, exercise and community.


Ornish Lifestyle Medicine promotes a whole food plant based approach to eating, focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes in their natural form. This nutrition plan can help you lose weight, improve your cardiovascular health and reverse the negative effects of pre-existing diseases.

This approach to nutrition is about helping participants feel good and experience the joy of living. Food is neither good nor bad, but some foods are more healthful than others. During the program, a registered dietitian is available to support participants in this learning process, teaching you how to read labels, providing cooking demonstrations and showing how to maintain this lifestyle.

Stress Management

We respond to stress in both physical and psychological ways. Stress tends to trigger the production of adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone, which can help us deal with a stressful situation in the short term. However, when stress becomes chronic and these chemicals are experienced more regularly, the physical effects can be harmful. Increased blood pressure, increased stomach acid, irregular heart rhythm, blood clotting and higher levels of cholesterol are all potential physical responses to chronic stress.

The psychological reaction to stress can be equally harmful. Anxiety, depression, irritability and inability to focus are all possible side effects of chronic stress, and can lead to patterns such as overeating, substance abuse, insomnia and exhaustion.

The Ornish program teaches participants to manage stress in healthy ways by incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily routine. Stretching, meditation, deep breathing and progressive relaxation are all methods proven to have a positive influence on a person’s stress management habits, decreasing the harmful physical and psychological stress reactions that can contribute to cardiovascular disease.


The benefits of regular exercise on cardiovascular health have been well documented. The American Heart Association suggests a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for improved heart health. Regular aerobic exercise decreases resting blood pressure, increases the heart’s efficiency, and lowers the risk of blood clotting.

The Ornish program recognizes that each individual has different needs when establishing the most appropriate exercise regimen for his or her fitness level. Participants in the Ornish program work with a trainer to determine the optimal frequency, intensity, duration and type of exercise to most effectively improve their heart health.


The final pillar of the Ornish program is community. Loneliness and isolation can have a larger impact on our quality of life, physical and mental wellbeing, and risk of premature death than any other lifestyle factor. Prioritizing love and support in our lives not only makes us happier and more fulfilled, but also can have a positive influence on physical health and potential for healing. The Ornish lifestyle advocates practicing good communication and fluent listening with people in our lives to strengthen our sense of social community, building a system of support, love and healthy living that improves happiness, quality of life and physical health.

By maintaining a comprehensive focus on lifestyle, the Ornish lifestyle promotes cardiovascular health and quality of life, helping men and women overcome heart disease while enjoying fulfillment, nutrition, relaxation and the benefits of community.


Ornish Lifestyle Medicine is a trademark and Dr. Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease is a registered trademark of Dean Ornish.