Get to Know The ORNISH Lifestyle Medicine Program at Hilo Medical Center

According to the Hawai’i State Department of Health, cardiovascular disease is the LEADING cause of death in Hawai’i; cardiovascular disease and stroke are responsible for almost 4,000 deaths per year in our state. There are over 18,000 hospitalizations every year in Hawai’i as the result of cardiovascular disease, accounting for about 22 percent of all Hawai’i hospital costs. The good news is that cardiovascular disease is largely preventable. Community health workers, pharmacies, insurers, health organizations, and federally qualified community health centers throughout Hawai’i work to promote blood pressure screening, education, and management to at-risk populations.

Here in Hilo, we have an amazing program valiantly taking on the challenge of fighting cardiovascular disease and supporting our community members who need the most help lowering their risk and improving their quality of life. The Hui Pono ORNISH Program at Hilo Medical Center is a true Hawai’i Island community leader in combating heart disease.

What is the ORNISH Lifestyle Medicine Program?

According to the Hilo Medical Center’s Hui Pono website, The ORNISH Lifestyle Medicine Program is the first and only program that is scientifically proven to slow, stop, and even reverse the progression of heart disease. This Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation program brings about its life-changing results by helping participants adopt and sustain lifestyle changes in four areas of their lives: what they eat; how active they are; how they respond to stress; and how much love and support they have in their lives. By optimizing these four elements, the program empowers them to minimize their reliance on medications, avoid future surgeries, and most importantly, re-take control of their health.

The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program has numerous health benefits and is scientifically proven to:

  • Reduce the risk of heart-related events
  • Decrease the frequency and severity of chest discomfort
  • Lower the likelihood of future surgery
  • Lessen dependence on medications
  • Lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, and bring about weight loss
  • Increase your capacity for exercise

Participants of the 72-hour program are led by an amazing team of healthcare professionals and work with the same group of participants throughout their class, all of whom share the common goal of reversing the progression of heart disease and improving their well-being. The program boasts an impressive 91% adherence rate by participants; the vast majority stick to the program, especially since they often start to feel better and healthier within the first few sessions.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine is not only for those who have suffered a major cardiac issue, it can also help some individuals who are at high risk of potential cardiac issues. Risk factors for heart disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity and those with heart disease can all benefit from the program. 

The program’s effectiveness in healing years of damage to the heart has led to Medicare, HMSA, and other insurers making the decision to cover it under a new benefit category, Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation. This is the first program of its kind to receive this level of support, and the qualifying criteria for the program includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery / Heart or Heart-Lung Transplant
  • Acute Myocardial Infarction within the last 12 months (Heart Attack)
  • Current Stable Angina Pectoris (Chest Pain)
  • Heart Valve Repair or Replacement
  • Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (Balloon) or Coronary Stenting

There are four pillars to the ORNISH Lifestyle Medicine Program.  This proven, non-invasive program consists of 18, four-hour sessions focused on bringing about sustainable lifestyle changes in four (equally weighted) elements: personalized nutrition, exercise, love and support, and stress management.

ORNISH Lifestyle Medicine Program participants are the living embodiment of these results. Please visit our testimonial page to hear their stories.

The Hui Pono ORNISH Lifestyle Medicine Program at Hilo Medical Center is also very supportive of local students who are interested in pursuing careers in Healthcare. The wonderful staff always takes students from the Hilo Medical Center Foundation AHEC’s Pre-Health Career Corps Program and allows them to participate in a variety of the program’s activities, including the exercise portion. With a diverse staff of healthcare providers, it is an ideal learning environment for students, who often express how amazing working with the ORNISH staff is. Keep an eye out for the ORNISH staff at community events and health fairs across the Big Island, as community outreach and public health is also a priority for this truly life-saving program.

To enroll or learn more about the program, call 932–3455 or email us at huipono@hhsc.org. For more information on the Ornish Lifestyle Program, visit their website.


Featured photo via Hilo Medical Center Facebook.

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