At one point in Dr. Steven Masley's career he was seeing 30 to 40 patients a day, writing prescriptions for blood pressure and cholesterol medications and sending them on their way hoping next time they'd be healthier. ¶ "I wasn't able to transform their lives," he said recently, frustration clear in his voice. ¶ All that changed when he broke away from traditional family medicine and started a new practice focused on preventing and reversing heart disease and other chronic diseases largely influenced by lifestyle. The Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg was developed to help busy professionals recover from damaging health habits or take their already good habits to the next level. ¶ Patients spend a day undergoing health tests, screenings and thorough discussions about their health goals and lifestyle. They leave with a program that promises to deliver improved numbers and more energy, usually in 30 days — if they stick with the program. ¶ "In this setting I work with very motivated people,'' Masley said. "They're paying for it out of pocket, from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on what tests we run. We don't accept insurance. And they get awesome results.''
He says that many people who stayed with his program for at least two years were able to reverse heart disease and shrink harmful plaque buildup in their arteries.
"We wait until people have symptoms, then put them on drugs and offer invasive procedures and hospital stays. That is wrong," Masley said. "It can be prevented. There's solid science around that."
Don't have a few thousand bucks to spare? Here's the good news: "You can do it yourself for under $25," he said.
Masley is referring to the price of his latest book, The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up (Center Street Hachette Book Group, 2014), and its companion PBS television show, 30 Days to a Younger Heart (scheduled to air on WEDU-Ch. 3 on Wednesday at 8 p.m. In the book, Masley lays out a clear lifestyle plan and lists the medical tests he recommends to gauge the state of your heart health. The promise: "Make a U-turn on the road to heart disease in 30 days."
In the book, he explains why taking medications that lower blood pressure and cholesterol aren't enough to fix your heart, how to exercise effectively, and why some fats are good for you and should be included in your diet.
Included in the book are sample daily menus and 60 heart-healthy recipes Masley developed for maximum flavor, their healing properties and to provide fuel for your day. In addition to being a medical doctor, Masley is a nutritionist, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and a trained chef.
On a recent afternoon we met up with Masley in his home kitchen, where he prepared a favorite coleslaw recipe from the book. The combination of cabbage, carrots and apple lightens up on the usual heavy mayo in favor of a dressing that also would be delicious drizzled on a heart-healthy avocado half — one of Masley's highly recommended power foods. Also on that food list are nuts and nut oils, berries, organic free-range eggs and lean chicken, organic and grass-fed lean beef, red wine and chocolate.
"Not a milk chocolate bar," he's quick to add. "It must be at least 70 percent cocoa and limited to 1 ounce a day."
That small amount makes a satisfying snack when combined with an ounce of almonds and a pot of green tea. Or melt your chocolate into a hot cup of cocoa, made with fat-free cow, soy or almond milk. If you must add sweetener, choose a reduced-calorie natural one, like stevia, he recommends.
In fact, sugar heads the list of foods Masley wants you to avoid, along with white rice and refined flour. He compares eating these items to putting dirt in your car's gas tank.
More pillars of his program: Eat more fiber and fewer processed and packaged foods, and get at least 30 minutes of challenging physical activity almost every day of the week.
"We need a revolution in health care today and it's got to start with people. Your doctor can't do this for you," said Masley, with his customary passion.
He hopes to get 1 million people to adopt his program this year, and expects the TV show should help. The real key to success, he says, is a willingness to change your own behavior and stop expecting doctors to rescue you from your bad habits.
"The most difficult part is taking responsibility, acknowledging that you are in charge of your health," he said. "Make the right choices and you can save your life."
Gil DiGiannantonio believes that's true. He started making what he considered healthy lifestyle changes in the late 1990s. Then he lost his 47-year-old brother to colon cancer and heart disease. That scared him and he decided it was time to take fitness very seriously.
He read an article about Masley's program and decided to give it a try. During medical testing, DiGiannantonio discovered he wasn't as healthy as he thought.
"My numbers were not great, where they should have been," he said, even though he was physically active. With Masley's changes, DiGiannantonio, now 65, lost more than 20 pounds and 2 inches from his waist, improved his cholesterol and blood pressure levels and has 35 percent more strength than when he started eight years ago.
"I work out with 45-year-olds who can't keep up with me," said DiGiannantonio, who exercises six days a week. He credits Masley's program with getting him in top physical shape to enjoy golfing, skiing and traveling.
"I've read his book and I personally think he's saving a lot of lives," DiGiannantonio said.
Irene Maher can be reached at [email protected]