This article is designed to give a very simple description on the heart, how it works and how to look after it. It is intended for those who have very little knowledge of the human body but realise that it is in their interest to know how important and incredible this organ is.
WHAT IS THE HEART?
The heart is quite simply the most important muscle in your body.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
As the heart beats it pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients through the blood vessels to the body tissues. On average it beats 70 beats per minute. That equates to 100,000 times day or 3 billion times in an average lifetime.
HOW DOES IT BEAT?
The hearts beat is generated by electrical impulses from the brain. This happens without you ever knowing about it.
IS THE HEART AND THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM THE SAME?
The cardiovascular system is a term used to describe the structure that is responsible for circulating the blood to the entire body. It comprises of veins, arteries and the heart, the engine room of the cardiovascular system.
DOES THE HEART PUT OXYGEN INTO THE BLOOD?
No. The heart has four chambers and a series of valves that control the movement of blood through the heart, allowing it to move one way then another. The heart pumps blood through one of the valves called the pulmonary valve into the lungs by way of the pulmonary arteries. In the lungs the blood picks up oxygen and then returns it to the heart via the pulmonary veins. The heart then pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.
IF THE REST OF THE BODY NEEDS OXYGEN, DOES THE HEART?
Very much so and if the heart does not get enough oxygen rich blood because of clogged arteries through cardiovascular disease then the heart begins to die and you suffer a heart attack.
WHAT CAUSES CARDIOVACULAR DISEASE?
There are five main enemies of the heart, Smoking, Being Overweight, High Blood Pressure, Cholesterol and a Sedentary Lifestyle.
Smoking – This damages the lungs, preventing oxygen reaching the heart. It damages the heart muscle by putting it under undue stress. It also make’s the blood sticky allowing plaque and deposits to stick to the artery walls, preventing blood reaching the heart. Smoking is a main cause of cardiovascular disease.
Being Overweight – Again this puts the heart under stress and may bring on high blood pressure. It can cause diabetes, which can also damage the heart. Fat can gather around the heart, clogging vital blood flowing arteries.
High Blood Pressure. – Sometimes there is no way to prevent high blood pressure, but exercise has been known to help reduce the effect. With high blood pressure the heart never gets time to relax between beats, so it is constantly under stress, which ultimately will damage it. High blood pressure is easy to control with medication, but often shows no symptoms. So get your blood pressure checked regularly.
Cholesterol – There is two types of cholesterol. HDL the good cholesterol and LDL the bad cholesterol. Good cholesterol helps plaque flow through the artery walls, bad cholesterol makes it stick. Some people have naturally high cholesterol and may need medication to control it, but the majority of people with it have because of a poor high fat diet. Lower your saturated fat intake and exercise, which has been shown to help reduce cholesterol.
Sedentary Lifestyle. – The heart is a muscle and with all muscles, if you exercise it, it gets stronger. A strong heart can pump more blood with each beat, therefore lowering the number beats required to feed the body with oxygen. The average beats per minute are 70 but marathon runners can have beats per minute as low as 35. Therefore their heart is working only half as much as the average person, resulting in a much healthier, younger heart.
HOW CAN I HELP MY HEART?
The heart is an amazing organ and if you look after it, it will look after you. When you start taking care of it, it will respond to everything you do. However once It’s damaged the damage is there forever.
First eliminate its main enemies. Stop smoking, it probably the best thing you can ever do. If you are overweight, loose the weight through diet and exercise. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and work with your GP if either is a problem. Finally exercise. It’s the best medication your heart can have. However if you have not exercised for a long time or are over 40, get the all clear from your doctor.
WHATS THE BEST TYPE OF EXERCISE FOR THE HEART?
Aerobic exercise has always been the preferred method of exercise. Its exercise that makes you breathe heavy for at least 20 minutes, such as running, cycling and rowing. Aerobic means ‘with oxygen’ in other words the exercise requires you to pump more oxygen to your working muscles. The result is your heart has to work harder, or be exercised to do this.
However research has also shown a benefit from strength training. Strength training builds lean muscle. Lean muscle contains little fat and also burns calories more effectively. This helps with weight control and may help keep cholesterol lower, which will all benefit the heart.