Taking care of the heart: what you should and what you should not

Taking care of the heart is easy: good nutrition and regular physical activity are two powerful medicines to keep an organ healthy that beats millions of times throughout life, but suffers a lot from cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes , smoking, stress, sedentary lifestyle …

take care of heart

On the occasion of World Heart Day, on September 29, cardiologists recall that the ailments associated with their malfunction, cardiovascular, are the leading cause of death in the world, ahead of cancer and respiratory diseases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), deaths amount to 17.5 million a year in the world.

The organization itself highlights that 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable.

The worst thing is that these ailments may not appear until the disease is very advanced.

Chest pain, shortness of breath or a feeling of suffocation or fatigue, loss of consciousness or dizziness, palpitations … indicate that something is wrong.

The good news, they explain from the Spanish Heart Foundation is that  we have tools to take care of the heart and win the battle, starting with ourselves .

Gregorio Varela, professor of Nutrition at CEU-San Pablo University and president of the Spanish Nutrition Foundation,  explained to EFESalud that 70% of the causes for which you can have a cardiovascular problem are known.

Of this 70 percent of known factors, other than genetics, almost 60% correspond to diet and lifestyles.

This means that if a classification is made of known pathologies and factors that can influence their prevention or the opposite, “cardiovascular diseases in that sense are privileged”.

Of these, the influence of dietary factors and lifestyles is better known and therefore it is possible to intervene.

“Compared with other prevalent pathologies such as cancer or neurodegenerative ones, they are light years away in terms of knowing the role that diet and lifestyles play in the development of these pathologies.”

Healthy nutrition

It is one of the pillars of cardiovascular prevention because through what we eat we can improve our cardiovascular health.

And on the contrary: we can also  harm it if we choose unhealthy products , high in saturated fat, sugar or salt. Therefore, it is important to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and juices, remembering that the most recommended option is water.

You also have to avoid sweets and replace them with fresh fruits. This way, you will be closer to meeting the recommendation of eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

Another tip is to  limit your consumption of processed and packaged foods , as they are often high in salt, sugar, and fat.

And don’t forget to include fish, legumes and nuts in your diet, the latter in small amounts.

take care of heart
PHOTO EFE / Sáshenka Gutiérrez

Around with the fats

Gregorio Varela explains  that until a few years ago they only talked about the total amount of fat that should be ingested, and it was said that 30% of the total calories ingested should not be exceeded.

But when it was possible to quantify and analyze the type of fat in food, that is when it began to talk about saturated fatty acids ,  polyunsaturated and monounsaturated .

“Those who have normally been the bad guys in the movie , in quotes, are saturated fats, and I say they have been because now it is not possible to simplify and say that all saturated fats are bad and let’s banish them.”

“We are learning that some saturated fatty acids in certain foods, such as dairy, can have beneficial properties.”

As a whole, the nutritionist warns, saturated fats would be the most harmful from the point of view of cardiovascular health and should not account for more than 8 or 10% of the total kilocalories we eat each day.

These fats are found in foods of animal origin, red meat or processed meats such as cold cuts.

But it must be remembered that there are saturated fats of vegetable origin, “not so visible” and they are those that are found in foods processed with coconut or palm oil and that have been used more for industrial pastries or ready-to-eat foods .

“Although it is true that a significant effort has been made to reduce as much as possible the incorporation of these saturated fats in industrial processes.”

The  monounsaturated  are, without a doubt, the main food source in the Spanish diet, with olive oil at the fore.

“Taking into account that this food is accompanied by vitamin E, which is an antioxidant, and also the famous polyphenols, olive oil should be present in 20% of the total energy we consume each day.”

And although we have a good proportion, he warns, we did not reach what would be recommended, but we are better than other countries.

Finally fatty acids are polyunsaturated , two families: Omega – 6 and Omega 3.

The first is mostly in seed oils, like sunflower or corn.

Long-chain omega 3s are present in few foods, mainly oily fish: sardines, mackerel, salmon, horse mackerel …

Also in nuts, but to a lesser extent, and in some types of meat.

“Of these we should be taking around 6%, and we take a little more than indicated from the Omega 6 family, but we fall short in Omega 3”.

Physical activity

Along with healthy eating, exercise stands out as the other element in the equation to take care of your heart, have a better general and cardiovascular health in particular.

By engaging in  at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity five times a week , or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity spread throughout the week, you will be bringing your heart to life.

That is why it is a good idea to increase your physical activity every day, because everything counts: take the stairs at home instead of taking the elevator and go to work on foot or by bike instead of using the car.

In case you have to isolate yourself due to current circumstances as a preventive measure, you can follow virtual classes with exercises from home. The important thing is to keep moving and active.

In a round table organized by the Spanish Heart Foundation , the  cardiologist Amelia Carro, explains which are some components that are altered with physical inactivity.

Cardiorespiratory component:  the coronary arteries are altered and ischemic heart disease may develop; At the level of the myocardium, it causes heart failure, it also lowers our defense system with which myocarditis may appear, it also causes hypertension, arrhythmias …

Morphological component,  our body composition changes, we become obese, more lipids accumulate, our bone mass is lost: osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, there is also a loss of muscle mass …

According to a 2019 study led by researchers from CIBEROBN and CIBERCV at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), in 2016 there were in Spain about 24 million cases of excess weight, that is, 70% of the men and half of women in adulthood.

According to this report, if this trend continues, the figure could reach 27 million people in 2030, affecting 80% of men and 55% of women.

Give up smoking

If you are a smoker, one step that you should not delay is to stop smoking.

Remember that  two years after quitting smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease is substantially reduced , while at 15 years it is similar to that of a non-smoker.

But also, says the aforementioned Foundation, quitting smoking improves your health, your quality of life and also that of those around you.

To make this big step easier for you, there are companies and health centers that offer tobacco cessation programs.

Fight the coronavirus

In this very complicated year, the Spanish Heart Foundation also asks that you use your heart to defeat the coronavirus.

Thus, it is advisable to strictly follow the  contagion prevention measures  maintaining social distance, using a mask and washing your hands frequently is key.

take care of heart
Cardiovascular mortality in Spain. Infographic produced by the Spanish Society of Cardiology and the Spanish Heart Foundation.

Taking care of the heart: managing stress

All cardiologists agree in pointing to stress as another great enemy of the heart.

It is an indirect risk factor because it increases the probability of suffering from diseases such as obesity, diabetes, smoking or a sedentary lifestyle.

And stress has been observed to be a trigger for cardiovascular accidents in people at high risk or who have experienced an event before.

To control stress, it is important to learn to identify it, in addition to following the appropriate psychological strategies that a professional can provide.

And it helps to get regular physical activity and follow good sleep hygiene habits.

Taking care of your heart: detecting that something is wrong

On the occasion of this World Day, the medical team of Melio , an online platform specialized in blood analysis, has published a guide to know what happens when the heart fails.

They state that heart diseases have different forms of manifesting themselves, and the symptoms will depend on what structure of the heart is involved: the blood vessels, the valves, the muscle or the electrical system.

Chest pain

It is the main manifestation in case of myocardial infarction or angina pectoris, and it is characterized by pain similar to a weight or pressure in the sternum area, which is not modified by movements or breathing.

It usually appears suddenly and does not disappear if a heart attack is taking place, while it is usually triggered with effort and subsides with rest in 10-15 minutes in the case of angina.

It is common for the pain to spread to the left arm, but also to the neck, jaw and back.

In the event of a heart attack, the pain is often associated with intense discomfort, cold sweat, and nausea or vomiting.

Dyspnea or a feeling of choking or fatigue

It appears initially with effort, but as the disease progresses it arises with small activities.

This symptom can be present in a large number of heart diseases and usually reflects an advanced stage of the disease.


They consist of the abnormal perception of the heartbeat, which can be accelerated, slowed or even absent.

Depending on the type of arrhythmia and the person’s heart function, only palpitations may be noticed or they may be accompanied by other symptoms.

Loss of consciousness or dizziness

It happens suddenly and without noticing any previous symptoms.

It can reflect serious situations, such as a heart attack, a “malignant” arrhythmia, or an excessive slowing of the heart rate.

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