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Dr. Marshall Matos explains heart health to assisted living residents.

Your Heart’s Health: Maintaining a Steady Rhythm as You Age

Our hearts, the tireless engines working tirelessly within us, deserve our utmost care. But as we age, the years can take a toll, potentially introducing problems that disrupt their steady rhythm. Here at United Hebrew, we recently welcomed guest lecturer Dr. Marshall Matos, a cardiologist at Montefiore New Rochelle, to guide us on how to keep our hearts happy and healthy as we age. Dr. Matos emphasized a holistic approach, focusing on both controllable risk factors and healthy lifestyle habits.

“The good news is that we have a lot of control over our heart health,” Dr. Matos began. “By focusing on managing certain risk factors and adopting healthy habits, we can significantly reduce our chances of developing heart disease.”

The Power of Prevention: Controlling the Controllables

Dr. Matos highlighted several key factors that significantly impact heart health. These are aspects we can influence through diet, exercise, and sometimes, medication.

  • Blood Pressure: Aim for readings below 140/90 mmHg. “High blood pressure is a silent threat to your heart health,” Dr. Matos cautioned. “Regular monitoring and following your doctor’s recommendations for managing it are critical.”
  • Blood Sugar: For those with diabetes, meticulous management through diet and medication is essential. Dr. Matos stressed, “Uncontrolled blood sugar can damage blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease.”
  • Smoking: The message here is clear – quitting smoking is the single most important step you can take for your heart. “Smoking damages the lining of your arteries and increases your risk of blood clots,” explained Dr. Matos. “Quitting, no matter your age, has significant benefits for your heart health.”
  • Cholesterol: Maintaining healthy levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol is crucial. Triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood, should also be monitored. “LDL cholesterol builds up in your arteries, narrowing them and increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Matos explained. “HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL, so higher levels are beneficial. We also want to keep triglycerides in check for overall heart health.”
  • Weight: Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) through diet and exercise is vital. Dr. Matos advised, “Excess weight puts extra strain on your heart. Even modest weight loss can significantly improve your heart health.”
  • Stress: Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your heart. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature, is essential. “Stress hormones can raise your blood pressure and heart rate,” Dr. Matos explained. “Techniques to manage stress can make a big difference in your heart health.”

The Power of Exercise

“Exercise is like a magic potion for your heart,” Dr. Matos declared. He recommends aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 3 sessions of 45 minutes each. “The good news is that most activities count,” he reassured. “Walking, swimming, dancing – anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps you moving is beneficial.”

Dr. Matos acknowledges that starting a new exercise routine can be daunting, especially as we age. “The key is to find activities you enjoy and gradually increase the intensity and duration as you get fitter,” he advised. Even small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further away from your destination, can make a difference.

Fueling Your Heart’s Rhythm With Healthy Food 

The food we choose plays a significant role in keeping our hearts healthy. Dr. Matos recommends focusing on a balanced diet that includes:

  • Healthy fats: Opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish. These fats can actually help lower your bad cholesterol and improve your heart health.
  • Limited unhealthy fats: Saturated and trans fats, found in processed meats, fried foods, and commercially baked goods, contribute to plaque buildup in arteries. Dr. Matos suggests, “Limiting these unhealthy fats is crucial for a heart-healthy diet.”
  • Mindful sodium intake: Most adults should aim for no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day. “Excess sodium can raise blood pressure, putting extra strain on your heart,” Dr. Matos explained. Opt for fresh foods and be mindful of hidden sodium in processed foods. 
  • Sugar smarts: Limiting sugary drinks and processed foods laden with added sugar is essential. Dr. Matos suggests, “Sugary drinks can contribute to weight gain and other health problems that put your heart at risk.”
  • Cooking at home: Taking control of what goes into your meals allows you to choose healthier ingredients and limit unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugar. Dr. Matos concluded by emphasizing the

If you’re craving McDonald’s, should you indulge? Dr. Matos said to avoid these meals when possible, as one serving contains a full day’s worth of sodium and calories – not to mention unhealthy fats. Instead, reach for dark chocolate (in moderation), nuts (except peanuts) and sweet potato fries as “better for you” snacks and treats.

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