When I first encountered Johnny Lee, M.D., he was dressed in biking shorts, a biking helmet, and wearing an American Heart Ride shirt. Like me, he was preparing to ride in the American Heart Association’s 6th Annual Heart Ride on May 17, 2014, and was ready, at 7:00 am, to bike through the Hamptons, 100 miles to Montauk, NY.
Dr. Lee loves the outdoors, he loves to exercise, and he loves to keep his body and heart active. When I called him for an interview, it came as no surprise when his response was, “I’m ice climbing. I’ll call you when I get back.” I can’t think of anyone better to give us some advice about keeping our hearts healthy.
RC: What was a major turning point in your life?
JL: When I was around nine years old, my father was very ill with a perforated, bleeding gastric ulcer. I witnessed him collapse at home and could do nothing. Because of this, I became a physician.
RC: Was there an “a-ha moment” that changed your life?
JL: In 2011, I carried the American Heart Association flag to the summit of Mount Rainier. Afterwards, I realized how many people I inspired by merging two passions of mine: outdoor adventure and heart health awareness.
RC: Do you feel there’s enough awareness regarding heart health?
JL: We have made significant strides in heart health awareness over the past decade, especially in educating people about how cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking affect heart health. Now, there are even bans on smoking in public places across the U.S. But there can never be enough awareness. We still have lots of work to do in preventing childhood obesity and getting all Americans to exercise more regularly, also important risk factors. Are the numbers for heart disease increasing annually? Yes. It’s the #1 killer in the U.S.
RC: Is there a pattern you detect that’s typical of our diet and environment?
JL: There is no typical diet pattern. Most heart disease is related to high blood pressure, high cholesterol (particularly “bad” LDL cholesterol), and diabetes. High blood pressure often occurs from eating foods high in sodium, like those we eat on the go or in restaurants. High cholesterol comes from eating too much beef, pork, and egg yolks. And diabetes is related to obesity—high caloric intake coupled with a lack of exercise.
RC: Are more children being diagnosed?
JL: There are higher rates of obesity, but not adult-type coronary artery disease.
RC: Can we prevent heart disease? If so, how?
JL: As above. Lower sodium, cholesterol, and overall caloric intake so that it’s balanced with caloric expenditure. And more regular exercise.
RC: How can we help raise awareness?
JL: Have open discussions with family, friends, and co-workers. Inspire others who are less healthy and allow oneself to be inspired by others. You can start a conversation by participating in events like the American Heart Ride. Personally, I love outdoor sports, so it was a “no brainer” to do this and advocate for the American Heart Association. My patients even ride with me!
RC: Why are you excited by this year’s ride?
JL: Nick Racanelli asked me to Co-chair this event with him for the last few years. It’s the one event that I truly encourage everyone to participate in. It’s a very chill and zen time, touring the Hamptons on a bike while raising money for an outstanding cause!
I’ll be there myself this year, and am excited, too. Click here to learn more about the American Heart Ride taking place this year on May 15, 2015.