We put our hearts through a lot over a lifetime. It’s there from before our bodies are even fully formed, and it is there until our last breath. It’s an incredibly complex organ, one that never stops. It tells a lot about us, our cardiovascular fitness, our overall health, and (if you’re more metaphorically inclined) whether we are passionate, in love, and all that good stuff.
Anatomically speaking, however, it is truly a remarkable organ and so much of our lives depend on the function of all its little components. So how do we keep this amazing organ working properly for as long as possible?
Let’s look at a few facts.
THE ANATOMIC BRILLIANCE OF THE LITTLE FISTED-SIZE ORGAN
It’s a common saying. People often say that the heart is about the size of your fist. It helps visualize the anatomic size of the heart within the chest, while at the same time highlighting just how powerful this muscular organ is given its size. The heart does more physical work than any other organ over a lifetime.
The heart pumps blood throughout your body, but it also multitasks. It is the central command center that allows for nutrients, hormones, and oxygen to reach every cell of the human body. It does this via a complex network of veins and arteries, and it does so without fanfare. It never seeks an award or recognition. All it wants is that you keep it healthy so that it can do its job.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The heart is composed of two chambers. The top two are known as the left and right atrium. The lower chambers are called left and right ventricles. As in all things in biology, the structure-function principle indicates the functional importance of this structure. The division of the chambers is necessary to ensure that deoxygenated and oxygenated blood don’t mix together and things flow in the right direction. To ensure the proper flow of the blood, the various valves of the heart come in.
Quick overview of the heart’s function:
- Non-oxygenated blood traveling via the vein network (through the superior vena cava and inferior vena cava) is delivered into the right atrium. The blood pumps into the right ventricle, passing through the tricuspid valve.
- From the right ventricle, the blood goes through the pulmonary valve into the lungs to receive its oxygen.
- This blood then moves into the left atrium (it is now oxygenated) and it gets pumped through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle.
- The left ventricle takes care of pumping this oxygen-rich blood through the aortic valve to the aorta and rest of the body.
HEART DISEASE IN THE UNITED STATES
Heart disease is a broad term that describes various conditions that affect heart health and function. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnic groups in the United States. One person dies every 36 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease and costs the nation about $363 billion.
Common heart disease issues include:
- Blood vessel disease (such as coronary heart disease) : This is normally caused by plaque buildup (often from unhealthy habits and diets). Cholesterol is one common culprit of this type of disease.
- Heart rhythm problems: This indicates your heart beats too quickly or slow and can be caused by smoking, history of heart attack, stress, unhealthy lifestyle, etc.
- Heart defects from birth: Some people might suffer from heart issues suffered from birth.
- Heart valve disease (when the valves fail to function properly): These issues can be caused by aging, injury, and other conditions.
- Disease of the heart muscle: Cardiomyopathy is problems with the heart muscle caused by high blood pressure, viral infections, alcohol abuse, certain medicines, and more.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER: INACTIVITY IS A MAJOR COMPONENT OF HEART HEALTH
The great news about heart disease is that many issues can be resolved, mitigated, prevented, or improved via better lifestyle choices. Perhaps one of the most essential choices someone can make when taking care of their heart is cardiovascular health through physical activity.
Here’s a kicker of a fact: According to John Hopkins, physical inactivity at the lowest levels puts you at a higher risk of heart disease than smoking cigarettes. Here’s another one: sitting too much can also be difficult on your heart health.
5 TIPS FOR OVERALL HEART HEALTH AND STRENGTH
Ok, so now that you know how the heart works and some of the common heart issues, how do you maintain good heart health. The truth is most people learn about this in early education and have a good sense of what they should and shouldn’t do. Here’s a review:
- Embrace healthy fats, stay away from Trans fats. Fat is not the enemy. It’s the kind of fat that we consume that matters. By cutting unhealthy fats from your diet, you help the blood flow in your heart, which means everything works better.
- Get proper sleep. Not getting enough sleep can increase a person’s risk of heart disease regardless of age or habits. Sleep is a restorative process and the body needs this time to restore, reset, and heal.
- Sitting is the new smoking. We all know that sitting too much can have negative effects, but the correlation between sitting too much and heart health has been more closely explored in recent years. Studies show that sitting too much (even if you exercise) can affect your heart. So if you have a desk job, take frequent walks, move around, or invest in a standing desk.
- Get your exercise. As mentioned above, physical activity is a major component of overall health and wellness. The effects on heart health are hard to ignore. By getting exercise at least a couple of days a week, you’re helping your heart do the tough job of moving blood through your body.
FIND A TRUSTED PRIMARY DOCTOR AND LEARN MORE
Here at El Paso Family and Pediatric Clinic, we work with people of all ages in bettering their health habits and addressing potential heart problems or heart disease. Whether you are a person in their mid-thirties looking to improve health and weight management or someone in their sixties looking to maintain heart strength, we’re here for you.
We are accepting new patients. Learn more about our clinic and our commitment to El Paso’s health. Call EP Family & Pediatrics today.