With February approaching we prepare to be inundated with hearts – everywhere. Big hearts, little hearts, lop-sided hearts, hearts with mushy sentimental sayings, and of course those hearts that we made in preschool that look like they’ve been through WWII, and dragged around by the dog - for a few days. With all the emphasis on hearts, I thought of my own; the one in my chest, that keeps me going day in and out. My strong heart that powers me through my toughest workouts, that keeps pumping when I pig out on the greasiest of greasy pizzas and flourless chocolate cake, the one that stood by me through my college days… The more I think about it, the more I am amazed at the resilience and strength of my heart. So, in celebration of my amazing heart, I dedicate this blog post. It’s really the least I can do.
To better understand the heart lets take a look at the circulatory system and some of its working parts. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “heart” as “a hollow muscular organ of vertebrate animals that by its rhythmic contraction acts as a force pump maintaining the circulation of the blood”. It is the center of the circulatory system, which maintains the flow of blood through arteries, capillaries and veins. Blood carries red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hormones and vital nutrients through out the body. It is through these components that our body is able to regulate itself day in and day out. Red blood cells carry oxygen into our system, and carbon dioxide and metabolic waste out. White blood cells and platelets play an integral part in fighting off infection and healing bodily tissues. Hormones and nutrients are necessary for proper mood, as well as organ and bodily function.
For most of us, while we are young our body is able to handle whatever we throw its way, bouncing back from even the most terrible conditions and accidents. However, as time, age, and lifestyle choices begin to take their toll, disease may manifest as a result. So, how can good cardiovascular health be obtained and maintained to contribute to a healthier lifestyle and longer healthy life?
-Regulate and lower high cholesterol and blood pressure; both are the precursors to heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol is a fat naturally produced by the body. Often, levels become elevated due to a poor diet and, over time, may harden and settle into arteries. This disrupts the flow of blood causing the heart to work harder. Blood pressure is the measure of how much force is being applied to the walls of blood vessels throughout the body. Contributing factors may include lack of exercise, poor diet, stress, and smoking. Often times both can be regulated with medication, adequate exercise and proper diet.
-Get moving – add exercise to your daily routine. Even simple changes such
as parking at the far end of the parking lot, taking stairs, and 10 minutes of walking a day can get your blood moving; all those steps add up! If you already exercise avidly, keep up the good work! Exercise helps to strengthen the heart, making it more efficient at pumping blood and distributing those essential components throughout the body.
-Improve nutrition – You are what you eat. Mom’s homemade Mac and Cheese may look amazing in the dish, but it won’t look as good on your thighs and in your arteries! The fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and vital nutrients that are, or aren’t, in your food will directly affect your circulatory health as it is directly absorbed into your body and into your blood stream. That means all the trans fat and saturated fat consumed will be deposited into your blood stream and pumped through, you got it, your heart.
-Sleep more. On average humans need 8 hours of sleep each night. During sleep blood pressure decreases, circulation increases, hormones regulating appetite and cellular growth are released, and tissues are repaired. These are just a few of the processes that take place during sleep; however all are vital for your body and its glorious parts to function optimally. So, missing your Zzz’s can lead to stress for your body and mind, which can lead to poor lifestyle decisions, and a sad heart down the line.
I encourage you to have a heart, and love your heart this month, and thank it for all the hard work it continues to do. Maybe change one habit that will help your heart and down the road, it will continue to help you.
Check out some of the following websites for more information:
An entire website devoted to loving your heart! American Heart Association: