AtlantiCare's Heart and Vascular Institute has launched its "Our Hearts Are In It" three-year campaign aimed at engaging the South Jersey community in preventing deaths from heart disease.

Dr. James Dralle, chief of cardiac surgery, said while heart program at AtlantiCare has been successful with heart, bypass, valve and dissection surgeries, now they want to concentrate on preventive care. He said with a few simple lifestyle changes, people can lower their rates of having heart attacks and strokes.

The program focuses on diet, eating well, exercise, being active and a variety of medications that can help with preventive maneuvers.

A recent analysis by The Wall Street Journal looked at heart disease death rates in the United States. It found that the Atlantic City-Hammonton area tied for the second highest metro area rate increase in the country of deaths due to cardiovascular disease in middle age at 25.7%.

Dralle said some of the patients he's seen in South Jersey have neglected their health by not eating well, not exercising and not visiting their doctors.

The Our Hearts Are In It program look at exercise options for patients. That could be creating walking and running clubs as well as food programs to teach about healthy cooking. Dralle said there's talk about having food trucks with healthy food in different areas and exposing people to more heart-healthy diets.

While there is all this technology in the world and advanced surgeries to treat cardiovascular disease, Dralle said all it takes is some simple steps to keep people from even getting to that point. Staying active can help someone's overall risk profile, getting weight down and preventing problems.

The first step of the campaign is for south Jersey residents to take AtlantiCare's online Heart Risk Assessment. It asks general questions about what a person eats, whether they're smokers and how often they exercise.

"If we can get to people before they come in with an acute illness or congestive heart failure, we can do things to prevent heart damage," said Dralle.

He said coronary disease can be taken care of with surgery or stenting, but if the doctors at AtlantiCare can get to people first with risk profiling, more lives can be saved.

The hardest part of implementing a healthier lifestyle is getting started, said Dralle. The best thing is to get a group of people together and create a routine that involves getting off the couch, getting outside and becoming active.

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