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Three faculty physicians from UCF Pegasus Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice, provided their expertise on keeping your heart healthy during a community event at the practice on February 27.

Drs. Abdo Asmar, Analia Castiglioni and Bernard Gros provided preventative and treatment strategies to about 50 people at the “Live Smart for Your Heart” event. Their theme: You can’t change your genetic predisposition to heart disease, but you can make simple lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

We all take our cars in for maintenance when something isn’t working correctly, but we don’t do the same with our health, Dr. Asmar explained. “You know when things are not right,” he said. “Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. So if you’re not feeling well, you need to be checked.”

Dr. Castiglioni is board certified in internal medicine and discussed primary care screenings that help physicians establish a patient’s risk factors for heart disease. The biggest risk factors for heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure (above 140/90), high cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle, and a family history of early heart disease (a male sibling or parent with heart disease before age 55 or a female before age 65). The best way to present heart disease is to work with your physician to identify your risks and begin treatment for these conditions. Dr. Castiglioni said.

Dr. Asmar is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine and is a specialist in the treatment of high blood pressure (hypertension.) That condition has no symptoms but impacts 70 million people, 30 percent of the adult population. While you may not feel the effects of hypertension, it puts continuous stress on the body, with the most harmful impacts on the heart, brain and kidneys, he said.

Blood pressure changes throughout the day and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including whether you are talking, stressed out, had coffee within 30 minutes of taking it or even if you have a full bladder. Dr. Asmar suggested patients to talk to their physicians about monitoring blood pressure at home to get a more accurate view of their health on a daily basis. Visit for more information on home blood pressure monitoring.

All three physicians urged patients to get moving. You don’t need to go to the gym and work out for hours to be heart healthy. Go from being a couch potato to being increasingly active. Start with baby steps – walk five or 10 minutes three times a week and gradually increase your activity. If you don’t have the ability to walk, consider “bicycling” with your arms – use two milk bottles filled with water or sand and bicycle with your upper body.

Dr. Gros, who is board certified in cardiology, discussed taking a daily low-dose aspirin as a preventative for heart disease. He said one low-dose aspirin a day has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack in middle-aged men by 20 percent, but the scientific evidence is mixed for women. In addition, aspirin can cause bleeding. He advised participants to talk to your doctors about the individual benefits and risks of aspirin therapy.

Dr. Gros also gave advice on healthy eating – reviewing the snack table that UCF Pegasus Health had set up for guests. Cut down on red meat, he said. Eat more vegetables and fruits. Increase your consumption of fish, legumes, and colorful fruits like strawberries and blueberries. A recent study showed that eating strawberries and blueberries three times a week can reduce a person’s chance of a heart event by 30 percent. Dark chocolate also has heart-healthy benefits, he said, but eat it in moderation.

For more information on the College of Medicine physician practice, please visit


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