Around Valentine’s Day, many of us have hearts on our minds. Cupid turns some couples into lovesick fools and leaves others to nurse a broken heart.
Dr. Jim Willems has the heart on his mind year-round — and not because he’s a hopeless romantic. As a cardiologist with Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) in Seattle, he helps prevent, diagnose and treat matters of the heart. While he won’t give you advice on love, he does enjoy many other facets of heart health.
“From the doctor’s standpoint, cardiology is interesting because it involves three very different functions. There’s the muscular pump function, blood flow and circulation, and the electrical circuitry of heartbeats,” he says. “I enjoy the opportunity to improve people’s lives, not just through medications and procedures, but also through lifestyle changes.”
Heart-healthy habits are for everyone
Worldwide, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but many think they’re not at risk.
“I see a wide range of patients as a cardiologist. Those who are middle-aged or older tend to have heart issues related to the long-term effects of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. I also treat younger patients born with heart abnormalities and those with a family history of heart issues,” Dr. Willems says. “My youngest patient is 18, and my oldest is 102!”
February is Heart Health Awareness Month, so put down that heart-shaped box of chocolates and follow Dr. Willems’ advice for a healthier cardiovascular system.
“There’s a significant genetic component to heart health, but the biggest thing individuals can do is manage their diet and exercise. Of course, that’s been challenging during the pandemic because it’s harder to get out and exercise, and it’s tricky to resist comfort foods,” Dr. Willems says.
He also acknowledges that everyone’s situation is different. If you’re working three jobs just to pay rent, it can be difficult to make time for exercise.
“It doesn’t have to be High-Intensity Interval Training or CrossFit. Thirty minutes of walking every day is great for your heart. The best thing you can do is establish a regular pattern.”
Smoking is a habit to stop, because it increases your risk of heart disease.
Cardiologist team in Seattle
Dr. Willems specializes in noninvasive imaging (ultrasounds of the heart, heart stress tests, CT scans and blood flow tracer imaging) and risk factor reduction. Other physicians on the six-person Cardiology team at PacMed focus on hospital procedures like angiograms and stents. Together, these specialists collaborate to help patients reach their goals.