How can you take care of your heart?

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death and disability at middle age and older in developed countries. Spain is no exception and, in fact, the protective effect of our Mediterranean diet is being lost in the younger generations, with eating habits closer to fast food and very high rates of childhood obesity.

According to statistics from the Spanish Society of Cardiology (SEC), in 2011, 46,994 acute myocardial infarctions (AMI) were admitted to different public hospitals in the country. In addition, congestive heart failure is the leading cause of hospital admission for illness in Spain, with 746,000 annual stays and an average stay of 8.74 days, which represents a significant healthcare expenditure.

Thus, on the occasion of World Heart Day, which is being celebrated today, Dr. Gómez Navarro, specialist in Cardiology and member of Top Doctors, gives you some tips to take care of your heart and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

What habits are good for the heart?

The essential rules or recommendations for a healthy lifestyle are:

  • Food based on the Mediterranean diet, balanced and varied. Avoiding obesity
  • At least 30 minutes of exercise daily.
  • Do not smoke: if you do smoke, you should definitely quit. Even light smoking significantly increases the risk of suffering heart attacks or strokes.
  • Control weight: if the Body Mass Index (BMI, which is calculated by dividing the weight in kilos by the height in meters squared) is greater than 25 kg/m², it is considered overweight, and if it exceeds 30 kg/m², it is considered obese.
  • Check blood pressure: periodically make sure that blood pressure remains below 140/90 mmHg, even if the person is hypertensive.
  • Check cholesterol and glucose controls: if after a fasting analysis the results are above 190 mg/dl of total cholesterol and 110 mg/dl of glucose, a specialist should be consulted. On the other hand, the best way to control levels is to follow a healthy diet and exercise.
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What sports and exercises are good for the heart?

As mentioned above, exercise is essential to achieve good physical and mental health, although it should always be adapted to age, physical condition and possibility of free time (and recovery).

In general, aerobic exercises (sustained over time with a high dynamic component) are heart-healthy. Some examples are walking, hiking, cycling or even running (as long as it is done with sense and appropriateness). Swimming is also a very complete sport, since muscular fatigue precedes cardiac fatigue.

Team sports are also a source of socialization and good for “mental” health (very important). As long as they are done at an appropriate intensity, there is no reason to stop doing them. It should also be noted that even muscle toning (the dreaded “weights”), with good advice, improves many aspects of the patient’s life and are not forbidden, even in a heart patient.

What diet is recommended to take care of the heart?

It is not a question of giving a specific diet or meal plan, but rather some general recommendations or guidelines. The best diet for cardiovascular health is the so-called Mediterranean diet, consisting of olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruits, oily fish, few processed meats, etc.

In a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), some specific dietary suggestions for better cardiovascular health are set out:

  • Reduce consumption of high-energy foods rich in saturated fats and sugar.
  • Increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Decrease the amount of salt in the diet.

The report also pointed out that chronic diseases are not only the result of excessive food intake, but also of an unbalanced diet as a whole. In other words, a balanced diet, in which vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, olive oil, skimmed dairy products, cereals and low consumption of salt, sugars and alcohol prevail, is vital for maintaining good cardiovascular health.