Cardiovascular diseases are constantly increasing and still represent the leading cause of mortality and disability in our country today. As we age, the heart muscle retains its strength to pump blood into the arteries, but it is stiffer and its walls tend to thicken. The heartbeat tends to slow down and responds less readily to stimuli. The valves of the heart and arteries, especially the aorta, tend to become stiffer and less elastic. But heart and arterial health largely depends on the lifestyle we adopt every day.
Benedetta de Mattei talked about it with the prof. Michele Gulizia – Director of Cardiology at the Garibaldi-Nesima Hospital of Catania and President of the Foundation for Your Heart of Italian Hospital Cardiologists – which explains below what are the fundamental rules for maintaining a healthy heart:
1 – CHECK YOUR CHOLESTEROL High LDL cholesterol values, the “bad” one (greater than 100 mg / dl, but in some cases 70 or 55 mg / dl, depending on the level of risk calculated by the doctor) and triglycerides (greater than 150 mg / dl) they are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol, if in excess, accumulates in the form of plaques in the walls of blood vessels (arteries) which become more rigid and can narrow: this process is called atherosclerosis. These plaques can rupture and form a blood clot (thrombus) on their surface that can completely close the artery. If an artery of the heart (coronary) closes, it causes a heart attack. If an artery in the brain closes, it causes a stroke.
2 – CHECK YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE REGULARLY If you have high blood pressure, consult your doctor about lifestyle changes and, if necessary, treatment should be started. If you are already on medication, make sure your blood pressure is always under control.
3 – AVOID SMOKING Smoking is responsible for the increased risk of death from heart disease. Even smoking a little is bad.
4 – DO PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND AVOID OVERWEIGHT A third of men and almost half of women do not engage in any physical activity during their free time and this proportion drastically decreases with age. In some industrialized countries, obesity has become a veritable epidemic: now one in three people is overweight or frankly obese, and weight gain appears to be related to cardiovascular disease. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and keep yourself moving, both in daily life and with exercises to be performed regularly. Walking, swimming, and cycling (or stationary bikes) for 30 minutes, 3 to 6 times a week are helpful but you need to follow a specific pattern and not get tired. The exercise must also include phases of joint extension, with flexibility exercises, and muscle stretching. If you have low functional capacity, that is, you are briefly tired or short of breath, or you are a carrier of pathologies, start physical activity only after a medical evaluation. Avoid exercises that cause breathlessness, pain, or dizziness. The choice of an exercise program must be based on the characteristics of the individual. Talk to your doctor for advice on a personalized exercise program. Exercise contributes to:
– reduce blood pressure
– “Train” the heart, which reduces its frequency both at rest and during exercise
– promote the maintenance of ideal body weight
– reduce bad cholesterol by increasing the good fraction
– it can make the blood thinner
– in patients with heart attack or heart failure it leads to an improvement in heart rate and symptoms
– improves mood in both anxious and depressed patients and helps to quit smoking
5 – FOLLOW AN ADEQUATE DIET An adequate and correct diet allows to reduce the cardiovascular risk and to age in good health. The key points of proper nutrition are:
– increase the consumption of vegetables, cereals (whole wheat), legumes and fruit;
– use only extra virgin olive oil, but in small quantities ;
– reduce the consumption of animal fats (fatty cheeses, fatty meats, cured meats);
– give preference to fish, including fatty fish (good omega-3 fat), except eel and skimmed dairy products;
– eat little and often;
– reduce simple sugars (sweets, etc.);
– do not salt and do not use canned goods;
– drink at least 2 liters of water a day and only a glass of wine with meals if you like.
These are the foods of the Mediterranean tradition. Several studies have shown that calorie restriction, i.e. eating little, slows the aging process, extends life expectancy and improves overall health. However, it is important to be careful and seek medical attention if you have muscle loss (sarcopenia) or excessive paleness, fatigue and heart rate. Finally, remember: vitamin and mineral supplements (folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin C, selenium, iron and zinc) are useful, but cannot be considered a substitute for a balanced diet. Excess salt can cause increased blood pressure and fluid retention, so it should be used sparingly. The guidelines of the experts speak of 5g per day as the maximum quantity not to be exceeded, preferably 3g. It is good to read the labels on food packages carefully: choose low-content foods. Many pre-cooked or prepackaged foods and bouillon cubes are high in salt. Getting enough fiber (legumes, vegetables and fruits, whole grains) into your diet will help you control your appetite and avoid constipation. A glass of good wine (preferably red) improves the quality of the meal and can have a protective role on circulation.
6 – TAKE YOUR DRUGS CORRECTLY Medicines are needed to treat high blood pressure or control symptoms of heart disease. Do not take medications without your doctor’s advice. Make a clear diagram with a table indicating at what time and in what amount you need to take your medications. Follow the prescriptions carefully. Don’t stop medications for no reasonsymptoms may return or worsen. Consult your doctor first. Often medications given for other diseases, such as pain relievers, or over-the-counter products such as laxatives, can interfere with heart medications. Consult your doctor or pharmacist to inquire about possible side effects.
Benedetta de Mattei