A long time ago, Homo sapiens would run through the savannah and alternate between starving and devouring huge portions of meat. Through the millennia our genes were optimized to handle those ups and downs. We have no idea what he eventually died from, but Homo sapiens was certainly not felled by a heart attack or stroke. That’s all quite different in the information age. While our genetic information has remained virtually unchanged, our contemporary lifestyle has little in common with that of the hunters and gatherers of our past. Transposed into the present day, their lives would be marked by daily exercise, healthy nutrition and regular fasting to stimulate metabolism. It’s a lifestyle that, according to the latest scientifi findings, can help prevent eight out of ten heart attacks. But obviously there is a problem with implementation — usually, one begins to think about making such lifestyle changes only after the occurrence of the mentioned illnesses. But more often, not even illness sparks change, says physician Dr Jan Stritzke.

Eternal youth?

He has worked for many years in hospital emergency care as a cardiologist and hypertensiologist, performing cardiac catheter examinations and implanting the vascular supports known as stents — measures he insufficient in the long run. “In standard treatment holistic approach is missing, which is why I am now more involved in science and have ultimately switched over to preventative medicine”. When Jan Stritzke talks about prevention, it is not without a wink as he mentions the “cardiologist’s search for eternal youth”, referring to the famous painting, The Fountain of Youth, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Depicted are old and frail women who are rejuvenated after bathing. The fact that the men in painting do not immerse themselves is simply a matter of artistic licence because in the Middle Ages men, course, also believed that the miraculous powers of healing springs would help them.

Bründl Karl

Prevention instead of worrying

Unfortunately, the Fountain of Youth is nothing a myth, as is eternal life. “Nevertheless we can actually do a fair amount to keep our hearts healthy well into old age. Coronary heart disease nowadays counts among the leading causes of death. Prevention should therefore begin at kindergarten age”, says Stritzke. Preventative medicine is his primary concern, or, to put it more vividly, preserving the youthfulness of the heart and the entire organism. For him, physical activity is the real key to a healthy life. And who would have thought that a couch potato’s risk of heart attack is approximately the same as that of a smoker consuming 20 cigarettes a day?

The heart is an incredibly fascinating organ. It is able to adapt to a person’s needs for an entire lifetime.

Dr. Jan Stritzke
Medical director of Lanserhof am Tegernsee

Where are the risks?

“When someone gains weight it pumps more and becomes larger; with high blood pressure the heart’s walls grow thicker”. The increase in the thickness of the walls is simultaneously a significant sign of the ageing process of the heart, a process greatly accelerated by such risk factors as high blood pressure and obesity. Whether or not this process can be reversed is quite a heated argument amongst scientists. “But basically I think what’s gone is gone”, continues Stritzke.

It is therefore all the more worth our time looking into the risk factors. There are constants such as age, family medical history and gender. Whereas men are already at greater risk between the ages of 40 and 50, women are not at greater risk until ten years later. On the other hand, there are risk factors we can actually influence such as stress, obesity, physical fitness, diabetes type 2, cholesterol, blood pressure and nicotine. “It is ultimately up to the individual to whom the heart belongs. For this reason the holistic approach is of great importance”.

The greatest danger is failing to exercise

“Someone who does not exercise can only minimally compensate with diet since exercise surpasses all the other risk factors by far. Fortunately, however, the effects of preventative measures are indeed evident after only a small amount of exercise. The point is not to aspire to becoming a real athlete — a moderate amount of endurance training is completely sufficient”. One needs to take a minimum of 10,000 steps per day to help prevent heart attack or stroke. Having fun while exercising is for many people the first step towards achieving a different lifestyle. “The next stage is 150 minutes of stamina training per week, combined with some weight training. If people can increase their strength right up through their senior years, they will have more energy and self-confidence”. Endurance exercise reduces the level of stress hormones, particularly if the exercise takes place in the great outdoors.

Staff hiking

Time-out for heart and soul

“And if we can succeed in integrating this into our personal self-esteem, can sit down and rest for a while in order to simply enjoy the day, and are able to deal with ourselves and life without putting ourselves under pressure, then this constitutes a major part of relaxation”, says Stritzke. Exercise and rest periods in order to hold body, mind and soul together? Yes! And in the ideal case, social contact without any specific purpose should be added to the equation, says the heart and vascular specialist: interactions with no ulterior motive. Even taking regular breaks is, according to Stritzke, part and parcel of transitioning to a healthy lifestyle. In his opinion this is more than just a health clinic fast treatment based on consuming only white bread rolls and milk. “The question is, how do we live? Anyone who has a heavily demanding occupation needs time out even more. Another possibility would be a job that is tailored to the person’s needs and also allows time for some sporting activity or exercise in the afternoon — not in the sense of having to achieve a certain goal but merely to do something good for your body”.

Lecture at a workshop for Bründl employees

This, by the way, is a basic principle that Jan Stritzke himself has internalised. “I live at the North Sea, where I can tank up on energy while cycling or jogging by the shore”.
This text is a summary of the lecture “Adam and Eve” given by Dr Jan Stritzke at a strateg y workshop for executives employed at Bründel in Kals am Grossglockner, Austria.

Take care of your body

* 3 main meals, no snacks * No smoking or nicotine * 1 time per week interval fasting * 10.000 steps per day * 1-2 times per week weight training * 150 min. of stamina training per week * Time to regenerate (self-esteem)