Heart health How to live like the experts

How to live like the experts: Dr. Maria Terricabras on how she maintains good heart health

Dr. Maria Terricabras
Written by Monica Matys

Ever wonder if your doctor or specialist follows their own advice? Sunnybrook experts get candid with the approaches they take in their personal lives.

Dr. Maria Terricabras is an Electrophysiology Fellow in the Sunnybrook Schulich Heart Program.  

You specialize in problems with the heart’s rhythms, which is really interesting. Do you come from a family of doctors?

No, and I’m actually the only one in my family. I became interested in medicine when I was about 14 years old, and remember telling my parents then that I wanted to become a doctor. They thought I would eventually change my mind, but here I am!

So do you actively avoid things that send your heartbeat into overdrive, like rollercoasters?

I love rollercoasters! I have a healthy heart, so have no reason to be afraid of them. I grew up in Spain and remember going to Eurodisney a lot when I was younger. I haven’t been to any theme parks in Canada yet, though. I also love watching scary movies. The Shining is my favourite because it builds tension without being too explicitly violent.

Diet can have a huge impact on our hearts. What’s your approach?

Being from Barcelona, I’m used to eating a Mediterranean diet. That means lots of lentils and beans, having fish once a week and not eating a lot of red meat. Just like back at home in Spain, I don’t fry anything and bake it or grill it instead. I try to avoid foods that are higher in fat, like sauces. On salads, all you need is a bit of balsamic vinegar and some olive oil! I also normally have fruit for breakfast and most desserts. I’ve been raised on this approach to eating so it’s not hard to do.

There must be some cheat days in there…

I love cheese like blue, brie and camembert, so that’s my pleasure on the weekends. My husband and I really enjoy food and like to go out to restaurants on the weekend as well. I’m careful during the week so I can indulge a bit more for a day or two.

What about exercise? That’s also an important part of heart health.

Getting in exercise every day is hard because of my schedule. When I’m in the lab, my work days can be up to 12 hours long. When I’m at the hospital, I do make a point of avoiding elevators and taking the stairs as much as possible. On weekends, my husband and I like to go on hikes and get over to the gym a few times.

Do you sleep well?

For sure, I make sleep a priority and aim for at least eight hours per night. That often means I’m going to bed early, but I don’t function well if I’m tired.

It sounds like you practice what you preach to your patients.

I think I walk that balance well, but I don’t do some things I often advise my patients. I have a healthy heart so I don’t have to strictly avoid salt. I also never wear a smartwatch to monitor my own heart rate, which some people find surprising. While these can be great tools for some people, especially those living with and at higher risk for heart issues, some people can become a bit obsessed with them.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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