This contribution was taken from the Uloop Magazine in an interview with Iris Lange-Fricke. You can download the original here read.

The heart is the engine of the body and supplies the whole body with blood as a pump organ. It is important that it remains healthy. Dr Simone Henne, internist and cardiologist from Hamburg, told us in an interview how to do this.

ULoop Magazine: What negative influence does our lifestyle have on heart health and the cardiovascular system? What diseases are there that can result from a negative lifestyle?

There are many factors that negatively influence our heart health. A very recent influence of our lifestyle is a lack of rhythm in our lives. I am seeing more and more younger patients with rhythmological heart diseases. This is one of the latest developments in our society. Especially young people often experience many extra beats up to real cardiac arrhythmias. I can often help by explaining the connections to regularity and rhythm in life. Both sleeping and waking rhythms as well as regularity in diet and exercise are important.

Then, of course, there are the classic "diseases of affluence" that have developed in our western society. Figures show that coronary heart disease and arteriosclerosis are on the rise worldwide. Even the Asian countries, which have meanwhile adopted Western food with lots of fast food, are noticing an increase in obese people and the resulting cardiovascular diseases. These are caused by an intake of unfavourable fats, fast food, lots of sugar, convenience food and little exercise. This behaviour is an essential pillar in the development of calcification of the vessels, poor blood flow to the heart muscle, a stop in blood flow and ultimately a heart attack can occur.

Another disease of the heart that I see more often is myocarditis. On the one hand, this has something to do with the spectrum of pathogens and on the other hand, again, with our rhythm. Performance-oriented people who don't allow themselves to relax when they have a cold or flu are particularly at risk. They put themselves under a lot of pressure or are afraid of gaining weight if they can't do any sport for a fortnight. These people run like hell both in their professional and private lives and find neither mental nor physical rest. They lack regeneration time. A very simple "rule of thumb" is: The moment you have to swallow a tablet because of a cold in order to be able to work, you should think about whether this is really good for your body.

What are the consequences of these diseases on heart health?

Arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries leads to a deterioration in the oxygen supply to the heart muscle. This makes it insufficient (no longer functions properly) and can lead to poor pumping capacity of the heart. This can lead to a blockage of an artery and then to a heart attack, which results in the death of part of the heart muscle. This part receives little oxygen and is undersupplied and can no longer pump. This results in a reduced physical capacity. Long before a heart attack, however, vascular stiffening occurs. This leads to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of strokes and rhythmological diseases, for example. Rhythmic diseases, from extrasystole to atrial flutter or fibrillation, can become so unrhythmic that everyday life is affected by the lack of regular pumping power of the heart muscle.

What are the signs that you should go to the doctor? What factors are there that can indicate a risk to heart health?

With rhythmic disorders, you notice it relatively quickly, through irregular beats. In the case of coronary cardiovascular disease, detection is much more difficult. There are, of course, precursors, such as when one feels strong pressure on the chest during physical exertion with or without a radiation in the left arm. But when this is already noticed, the process of oxygen deficiency of the heart muscle is already relatively far advanced. Slowly developing arteriosclerosis is rarely noticed. One indication in men can be erectile dysfunction. Since the penile artery is even smaller than the coronary artery, a functional disorder caused by narrowing arteriosclerosis becomes apparent even more quickly. You should also pay attention if your overall ability to cope with stress deteriorates, and not always just blame it on old age. For example, climbing stairs can become more difficult or it is harder to breathe when running after the bus. The classic risk factors that the doctor can identify are elevated cholesterol levels, a corresponding family history, nicotine use and elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels. All of these can damage the blood vessels. That is why a preventive medical check-up is advisable from the age of 40. If one or more factors are conspicuous, the heart should also be examined more closely, e.g. with a stress ECG. But it shouldn't get that far in the first place. That is why the first detector is a blood sample and a proper anamnesis to find out if there are lifestyle factors that can lead to this.

How can you positively influence heart health?

A healthy diet is particularly important. So lots of fruit, vegetables, wholemeal products, fresh food, lean meat, dairy products, fish, pulses, healthy vegetable oils, nuts, water, etc. Quite simply, we can say that anything with TO much is not good. If we eat too much or too little of the food, it is not good. It is okay to eat chocolate, go to an ice cream parlour or a burger joint. That doesn't do any harm either. We have a body that reacts to aggressors and has repair mechanisms at its disposal. But if we overload it with aggressors such as free radicals, then at some point it will no longer be able to transport all the waste away. It is important for a heart-healthy diet to have a conscious view of what is good for you and how it is combined. The dose makes the poison.

A balanced intake of vitamins and minerals is also good for vascular health. But I am not a fan of dietary supplements. In our latitudes, you can get all that well from food. Foods containing folic acid are particularly good for vascular health. Vitamin C is also recommended and a free radical scavenger, because free radicals attack our inner vascular skin. In the same way, calcium is also very important for the heart muscle. In the case of cardiac arrhythmias, potassium and magnesium are particularly good because they can stabilise the resting pulse of the heart. In this way, potassium helps the pulse to become calmer and more regular. Our heart-healthy breakfast is ideal for a good start to the day.

The second point that should go hand in hand with nutrition is exercise and sport. And here, too, the dose makes the poison. Beginners or the untrained should not immediately become marathon runners. It should be regular exercise and must be fun. Many people go to the gym with great commitment and then stop again after a few weeks. Unfortunately, that doesn't work. Many studies show that endurance sports three times a week for 40 to 60 minutes at a relatively low pulse rate are optimal. But experience shows that only a few people really manage to integrate this into their daily routine. That's why I recommend starting slowly but regularly and gradually getting used to more exercise. Read more about this in the two articles: Why is sport and exercise so important? Which sport is suitable for me and how do I start?

To train the heart muscle and blood circulation, moderate endurance training twice a week and strength training once a week is ideal. If you want to know exactly what the optimal training intensity and pulse rate is, I recommend concrete measurements by a sports physician (spiroergometry + lactate measurements). This will give you information about the optimal heart rate, which is different for each individual. But even the Movement in everyday life is important and should be active. Get out of your comfort zone, take every flight of stairs, walk or cycle to work. While doing this, you should also get out of breath and be stressed. The combination of exercise and good nutrition is optimal for keeping this vital muscle fit. It keeps the blood vessels smooth and supple. It promotes blood circulation and even the formation of new blood vessels.

Stress is also a factor, of course. This should not be disregarded. Stress causes high levels of adrenaline, i.e. high levels of stress hormones. These intensify the radical stress and thus we have even more attacks on our inner vascular skin. If the skin is smooth and healthy on the inside, cholesterol has much less chance of being deposited than on a brittle surface. Stress also leads to high blood pressure, which in turn damages the blood vessels and even the heart muscle. Relaxation and a rhythm are particularly important here. It does no good to be stressed at work and then run to sport while stressed. It can even have the opposite effect. Balance would be nice. Eustress, i.e. good stress, can also have a negative effect. If we run marathons all the time, this eustress can also have a negative effect. That's why it's important to consciously alternate stress and relaxed phases - also called regeneration phases in sports. Many people don't even know what that means any more, simply taking a break. The heart muscle needs strength but also Relaxationso that it can expand well again. If the expansion, i.e. the relaxation phase of the heart muscle, no longer functions, it can no longer fill properly. This can also have a negative effect on the function of the heart.

Relaxation or regeneration can also be learned, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, autogenic training, etc. - often this requires a similar discipline as learning and integrating regular exercise.

More about Dr Henne: and

Image source heart: Unsplash Jamie_Street

Image source staircase: