Ask an expert - Dr. Noura Dabbouseh, cardiologist
Last updated 2/19/2020 at 4:29pm | View PDF
How can people care for their hearts?
February is National Heart Month, a nudge for people to show some love to their cardiovascular system.
Cardiologist and Hinsdale Central graduate Noura Dabbouseh said our blood pump works better when the whole body keeps pumping.
"We've always known that exercise is good for you. It helps keep the heart's rhythm in check and controls blood pressures," said Dabbouseh, who practices at Amita Health's Hinsdale and La Grange hospitals.
The recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, Dabbouseh related.
"You should feel a little bit winded. We want you to be working when you're exercising" she said.
Lift weights while watching TV, she suggested, or buy a mini pedal machine that can fit under the desk at work.
"I think everyone can find 20 or 30 minutes a day to incorporate exercise into your normal routine," Dabbouseh said. "Take the stairs more. Walk to work or ride your bike."
Those who like a more intense workout can do 75 minutes of vigorous exercise for similar benefits. A doctor should be consulted, however, before taking on activities that could test one's limits.
"If you're worried, see your doctor to see if they clear you to exercise," she said. "If you feel OK, stop when your body tells you to stop."
Processed foods high in sugar and sodium have become staples for many. Unfortunately they are not heart-healthy. Dabbouseh encouraged consumers to read labels.
"We just have to very be careful about what we're eating," she said. "Looking at how much added sugar is in the food they eat is really important."
Dabbouseh said society's tendency to seek dietary convenience over well-being has led to an obesity crisis. Some communities, she noted, have few or no healthy food options. She acknowledged it takes effort.
"Do people have the resolve and the means to eat healthier? It's about cutting back on all the sugar and trying to replace it with vegetables and fruits and whole grains," she said. "I don't want people to be miserable. Give yourself two days a week".
People should get their cholesterol checked as part of their yearly physical with their primary care physicians. And while a blood pressure of 140/80 has historically been considered good, more recent guidelines are more aggressive.
"We really should be aiming for 120/80 and making strides to do that," she advised.
The drop in smoking rates in the last couple of generations has been a positive development. But as the population ages, so does the risk of heart disease and other medical challenges. Dabbouseh said she treats a number of patients battling heart issues and cancer simultaneously.
"People are surviving their cancer, and we're trying to do a good job of treating their heart, too, so they don't go on to suffer more heart disease," she said.
Yearly physicals are vital, Dabbouseh reiterated, and any warning signs should be checked immediately.
"Whether it's chest pain or trouble breathing, those are the people that we need to see sooner," she said.
- by Ken Knutson