Valentines is supposed to be the day when we take care of our heart, our love, and ourselves. But this year the number one thing you can do for all those things is to stay home, according to Dr. Satjit Bhusri, a New York cardiologist and founder of Upper East Side Cardiology in Manhattan. He says that he is seeing many patients who were healthy, come in after being exposed to COVID-19 who now have arrhythmias and other heart damage, even many months after first being exposed to the virus. They may have had a very mild case, nearly a year ago, he explains, and now because of complications are suffering new symptoms. The number one thing you can do this Valentine's, he says: Stay home.

When we called up Dr. Bhusri it was with the aim of finding out how we can best get our loved ones to eat a heart-healthy diet, on Valentine's Day and every day of the year, and we were surprised at the direction the conversation turned when we asked: What is the number one thing you would recommend we do to stay heart healthy this Valentines. His simple answer: "stay home." He added that this is just one year, and the COVID-19 is a super-clotting virus that causes all sorts of blood-clot related problems in people who have had it, even if they did not have underlying health conditions or other known factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes. It's a tricky disease, he explained, and if you can get the vaccine, run don't walk to take it, any of the shots that are available to you right now.

A Cardiologist's Best Advice for Being Heart-Healthy This Valentine's Day

The Beet: What is the most romantic thing you can do for your loved one?

Dr. Bhusri: I am a cardiologist and started my private practice, Upper East Side Cardiology, so I have seen a lot of things: heart failure, disease, and more. But what sets me apart is that at 35, my heart stopped and I was in cardiogenic shock and I was given a very slim chance of survival. I survived, went plant-based, got stronger, and avoided a potential heart transplant. And now the irony is I prescribe all the medicines that saved me. I know both sides of the equation, the physical and mental aspects, and social aspects. And the best days in my practice are those when I can take patients off their medicine because they have eaten a heart-healthy diet, exercised, and become strong enough and healthy enough not to need their blood pressure or cholesterol medicine.

The Beet: Your recovery was admirable. You had to strengthen your heart and train yourself to get stronger. And you went plant-based and now you are the picture of health. It's Such a hopeful, positive message. You worked to get your full health back.

Dr. Bhusri: Whether you have a heart attack, heart failure or arrhythmia, or broken heart syndrome, which is a real thing, it's very important to bring it up during Valentine's Day, this relationship between stress and a broken heart, and the idea of how you can regenerate that heart, through medicine and strengthening your heart, and through love.

The Beet; I am on a path of trying to eat healthily, get fit. And I get upset when I see the people I love not try to eat healthier. How can I get them on that journey with me?

Dr. Bhusri: You said it best: Ask them to come along on the journey with you. Make it into a together thing. If it comes a battle, someone is going to lose. You don't want that .... You want it to be a together journey and a way of saying: We are going to live together for as long as we possibly can.

There is a dialogue, but you have to understand that everybody has to eat. But you to as Why are we eating? We have to go back to the understanding that food is fuel. Food is not a shoulder to cry on, food is not a celebration, food is not a family celebration. If we think of food as fuel for you two to be together and do something together during the day, then you'll eat healthily.

I am not saying to never eat the ice cream or the cookie since we are human and when you want to, that's fine.  But if you eat too much of that junk food or sugar, it becomes something else than fuel. We have to ask ourselves: Why do we eat? For comfort? Food is fuel. It's not a shoulder to cry on, and it's not a shrink's couch. Food is not a celebration or a family gathering, although we often mix these things together. Food is a way to fuel a healthy body so it can do the things you want to do, and spend time with your loved ones, doing things together.

The Beet: So I am trying to be healthy. How do you make Valentine's special?

Dr. Bhusri: For my wife and myself, it means staying in and cooking together. We really enjoy spicy food and I know that about her and she knows that about me, so usually we eat something we really love together, which is spicy food. We are both plant-based and we go with something we will both love: General Tsao's tofu which is spicy and some wild rice and steamed broccoli. I love roasting Brussels sprouts and nice spicy tofu, or asparagus. So roasted Brussel sprouts and spicy Tofu and wild rice is perfect and that's going to make our day.

The Beet: Sometimes I think it's better to just feed a loved one plant-based and not tell them. I can make healthy food and not even draw attention to it or talk about it. Is that one way to go? It's hard to get people to change their behavior.

Dr. Bhusri:  It's easy to take a pill and harder to change a lifestyle. Sometimes it takes a life event, like what happened to me to ricochet across your family and that is what happened to us. My inlaws have become plant-based and my sister and her family have become plant-based. And a lot of that is just remembering what did I go through? It was: My son or brother or in-law had this happen and so what am I doing to show respect to that? Everyone knows someone with heart disease. We all can think about what we can do to be healthier, for the people we love.

The Beet: You lost weight? 50 Pounds? I think that someone like you is such an inspiration, by living with conviction and as a role model for people, I find that very inspiring.

Dr. Bhusri: My favorite days in the office are when I get to take my patients off their medicines. They changed their diet because we worked toward this together, and now they don't have to be on blood pressure or cholesterol medication. that's the best. But it's the easiest and the hardest thing to do.

The Beet:  What would you say is the number one piece of advice this Vday to take care of their heart?

Dr. Bhusri: The number one piece of advice to take care of your heart this year... is to stay home. I wish I could tell you something else. But honestly that is the number one advice. Why? because COVID has a  very strong effect on cardiovascular outcomes and heart health. We are seeing an immense rise in heart disease, heart failure, 40 percent rise in arrhythmias and heart problems. COVID clots blood like there is no tomorrow. Patients who have been exposed to COVID and had mild symptoms are now coming in a year later with heart problems.

The Beet: You're saying healthy people with past COVID are having heart issues?

I know that COVID is often more dangerous and serious among those with heart disease. But you're saying the opposite, causality, that COVID can create a heart problem in an otherwise healthy person. True?

Dr. Bhusri: Absolutely. Yes. Patients mildly exposed to COVID, or who had mild symptoms last year, are now coming into my office with heart problems. This is a major event in medical history. You do not want to get COVID if you can avoid it. When the vaccine is available, get it. Any of the vaccines. Until then, stay home. It's only one year.


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