Health Talk at HealthQuarters: Reflections on Heart Health

For American Heart Month, three providers from different practices at HealthQuarters give their diverse perspectives for protecting your cardiovascular health.

One of the most powerful features about HealthQuarters is the fact that so many diverse leaders in their field practice care under one roof. As 2022 progresses, we’ll be harnessing their expertise through targeted questions about wellness. 


To kick things off, we’re diving into heart health in celebration of February being American Heart Month. It’s well known that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but there are many different, effective approaches to heart health. To better explore these diverse perspectives, we asked three providers with different specialties, all practicing at HealthQuarters NoHo, for their thoughts. 


Read on for thoughts from Dr. Nada Saymeh, Family Medicine doctor at Mount Sinai, Dr. Sophia Visanji, East Coast Clinical Director of Care at Zak. Eyes, and Marissa Meshulam, founder of MPM Nutrition.


Nada Saymeh, MD, Family Medicine, Mount Sinai Doctors at HealthQuarters NoHo


Managing cardiovascular “heart health” is an essential aspect of an annual physical. As a family medicine physician working with patients daily on creating plans to meet their individual health goals, I find that the kick-start to a healthy lifestyle can look different for each person. In addition to appropriate medical screenings, lifestyle choices play a significant role in heart health.


Consuming a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, lowers cardiovascular risk. Similarly, avoiding smoking and setting a goal of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended by the American Heart Association to promote heart health. 


Life in the city gets busy and sometimes an "ideal" lifestyle is a challenge. Setting simple and realistic health goals helps my patients get the ball rolling. If you’re currently not exercising, building up a sweat by dancing to three or four of your favorite songs a couple times per week can be the jump start that helps you get heart healthy. Signing up for a new kettlebell course or catching a Pilates class once a week can further invigorate your health. Frequent convenient food delivery can negatively impact heart health. Limiting your takeout and eating in at least three days a week can lead you in the direction of a more balanced diet. 


Small steps pave the way for leaps towards better health. 


Sophia Visanji, OD, East Coast Clinical Director of Care, Zak. Eyes


We’ve all heard the saying, “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. But what about the windows to the rest of your body? As an eye health expert, I know a comprehensive eye exam can reveal valuable information about underlying systemic conditions within the body, including vascular disease. 


It starts with your retinal photo — an objective digital view of the back of your eye. This imagery, which is included in all Zak eye exams, assists in diagnosing ocular and other systemic diseases. The same arteries and veins that run through the retina also run through the rest of our bodies, giving us a great view into blood and heart-related symptoms. In fact, eye doctors are often able to catch potential issues earlier than an annual physical as we can look directly into your blood flow and can often detect problems before symptoms even begin! 


For instance, high blood pressure (or hypertension) and high cholesterol can cause retinopathy or damage to the blood vessels in your retina. Signs of retinopathy can include blurred vision and inflammation which a patient may notice or blood clots and tortuous blood vessels which can be discovered by your annual eye exam.  


The appearance of the blood vessels can also give us information on the presence and severity of diabetes. Some diabetic patients are not aware of the severity of their glucose levels until they are told by an Optometrist that their retinal exam reveals diabetic retinopathy. This can present as hemorrhages of the retinal vessels, white, fatty deposits from leaky blood vessels, and swelling of the macula (the part of the eye responsible for our central vision), leading to vision loss.


In this season of love, let’s not forget about the importance of our heart health and what an annual eye exam can reveal.


Marissa Meshulam, Registered Dietician and Nutritionist, Founder of MPM Nutrition


Here are my tips as a RN to focus your diet on heart health:


Make half your plate non-starchy veggies: It is no secret that veggies are the best nutrition bang for your buck. They contain high amounts of fiber and antioxidants, both of which are powerhouses in keeping your heart in tip top shape. In America, we tend to view veggies as an afterthought and instead protein / carbs take up the bulk of our plate (think steak and potatoes). Instead, try to shift the way you view this and start making veggies the biggest portion of your plate.

 

Go for slow carbs: Not all carbs are created equally. Fast carbs (like white bread & sugary processed foods) are digested really quickly and leave you hungry soon thereafter. Not to mention too much sugar can actually increase your triglycerides. On the flip slide, slow carbs that are rich in fiber (think oats, beans, sprouted whole wheat bread) digest slowly and keep you most satisfied for longer. Also - the fiber in here can actually work to pull cholesterol out of our bodies! Win, win. 


Don’t skimp on fat: Many used to believe that a low fat diet is key to heart health, however, this could not be further from the truth! Fat is super important for blood sugar regulation, keeping us full & aids in the absorption of certain vitamins. Just like carbs, some fats are more heart healthy than others. We want to up our monounsaturated fats: (nuts, seeds, avocado, olives), and our omega 3 fats (chia seeds, walnuts, salmon).


Move your body in a way you enjoy: For decades we have understood that moving our bodies is a key component in keeping our hearts in tip top shape. However, for exercise to be effective we must be consistent and consistency comes from enjoyment. Find ways to move your body that you enjoy. Dancing, walking, cleaning, whatever it is - just get moving!


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