Q&A: Cardiologist Antonio Chamoun Offers Heart Health Tips

Celebrate heart health month with healthier foods and exercise.



Antonio Chamoun

Whether you’re seated at your cubicle or finished your morning run, the heart pumps to a steady playlist. We sometimes take the rhythm of beats for granted. Packed schedules can get in the way of a healthy lifestyle and invite a slew of health risks. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and kills one in four people annually. February is heart health month, making it the perfect time to mute the distractions and show the heart some extra love. Cardiologist Antonio Chamoun of Brandywine Valley Cardiology shares some heart health tips.  

MLT: What dietary changes can you make to reduce the risk of heart disease?

AC: Dietary changes are directed towards controlling cardiovascular risk factors such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. A dietary pattern emphasizing intake of vegetables and legumes, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts is recommended, while limiting sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meats and salt.

MLT: What about behavioral changes?

AC: Behavioral changes include exercise, adequate sleep habits and avoidance of nicotine products. Generally, we recommend exercising three to four times a week, on average 40 minutes per session involving moderate to vigorous intensity. A good night sleep of around seven hours seems to be associated with better cardiovascular health than longer or shorter sleep hours. You might also want to consider guided-meditation or self-meditation once or twice a week.

MLT: What exercises are best for heart health?

AC: Predominantly aerobic exercises. Brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and elliptical machines are all beneficial. To a lesser extent, low grade resistance exercises are also beneficial to improve fitness and muscle strength. Vigorous high resistance exercises such as heavy weight lifting may cause significant peaks in your blood pressure and are generally not recommended in patients with heart disease.

MLT: How frequently should you have blood pressure and cholesterol checked?

AC: If you already have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, the frequency of your follow-up visits would be dictated by how well or poorly these are controlled or uncontrolled. For preventive purposes, blood pressure screening, diabetes screening, and cholesterol level checks are recommended at least once every two years after the age of 18.

MLT: Is heart disease hereditary?

AC: Some heart muscle diseases and heart rhythm abnormalities are well known to be hereditary. These are relatively rare conditions. Susceptibility to coronary artery disease is felt to be hereditary in 40 to 60 percent. This hereditary susceptibility makes one at greater risk from other risk factors like hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes and smoking for progression of coronary artery disease and its complications like heart attacks.

MLT: Can music help lower blood pressure?

AC: Any form of relaxation is known to decrease blood pressure. It is no surprise music was shown to affect blood pressure. I have heard about a new study reported in Heart, a British Medical Journal, which has shown that listening to fast music increases blood pressure, whereas listening to slower music has the opposite effect.

Heart Healthy Foods

  1. Salmon. This fish contains copious amounts of omega-3. These fats lower the risk of plaque build-up in the arteries if consumed at least twice a week. Dietary salmon supplements offer the same benefits.  
  2. Soy. Lower blood pressure by adding protein to your diet. Dress up a dish of tofu with soy sauce and spices, or replace regular milk with soymilk.
  3. Potatoes. This starchy vegetable gets a bad reputation. In its natural form—that means, non-greasy—its high potassium can help lower blood pressure. 
  4. Avocadoes and Tomatoes.  The good fat and potassium found in both fruits lower the risk of heart disease.
  5. Blueberries. Stock up on these antioxidant-packed blue gems. They can decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.
  6. Oatmeal. The golden grain is the Holy Grail of heart disease prevention. High in soluble fiber, it can lower cholesterol by absorbing the fatty tissue in the digestive tract. 
  7. Dark Chocolate. Chocolate usually gets put on the naughty list when it comes to good nutrition. The flavonoids found in dark chocolate help lower blood pressure and reduce clotting and inflammation. Before you sink your teeth into the surprise center of an assorted chocolate, make sure it’s at least 60 to 70 percent cocoa.
  8. Red Wine. A glass containing polyphenol can lower the risk of heart disease. Grapes contain the same heart healthy ingredient for non-wine drinkers.
  9. Coffee. The magical bean not only helps keep you awake, but it can also be responsible for making your heart healthier. Much like red wine, polyphenol lowers blood pressure if consumed at least twice a day. Green tea has similar benefits.
  10. Spinach. Take a tip from Popeye and incorporate this leafy green into your diet to help fight heart disease. The carotenoids act as antioxidants that free the body of potential harmful compounds.  

Getting Started

  1. Use a wearable fitness tracker. Fitness trackers can help encourage healthy behavior by setting goals for how many steps you take to how much water you drink. Some also track heart rate continuously.
  2. Go to class. If others will help maintain motivation, a class is a great place to start, whether its yoga or kickboxing.
  3. Switch up your routine. If you’re dragging your feet about New Year’s resolutions, revamp your routine. Bike to work instead of driving, cut out a late night snack, or add a healthy treat to your lunch.
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