Healthy Heart – Tips and Facts!
The heart weighs between 7 and 15 ounces (200 to 425 grams) and is a little larger than the size of your fist. By the end of a long life, a person’s heart may have beat (expanded and contracted) more than 3.5 billion times. In fact, each day, the average heart beats 100,000 times, pumping about 2,000 gallons (7,571 liters) of blood. The heart contracts at a rate of around 72 beats per minute, at rest. Exercise temporarily increases this rate, but lowers resting heart rate in the long term, and is good for heart health. The shape of the heart is similar to a pinecone, rather broad at the base and tapering to the apex. A stethoscope can be placed directly over the apex so that the beats can be counted. An adult heart has a mass of 250–350 grams (–12 oz). The heart size is 12 cm (5 in) in length, 8 cm (3.5 in) wide and 6 cm (2.5 in) in thickness. Well-trained athletes can have much larger hearts due to the effects of exercise on the heart muscle, similar to the response of skeletal muscle.
Your heart is located between your lungs in the middle of your chest, behind and slightly to the left of your breastbone (sternum). A double-layered membrane called the pericardium surrounds your heart like a sac. The outer layer of the pericardium surrounds the roots of your heart’s major blood vessels and is attached by ligaments to your spinal column, diaphragm and other parts of your body. The inner layer of the pericardium is attached to the heart muscle. A coating of fluid separates the two layers of membrane, letting the heart move as it beats. The largest part of the heart is usually slightly offset to the left (though occasionally it may be offset to the right). The heart is usually felt to be on the left side because the left heart is stronger, since it pumps to all body parts. The left lung in turn is smaller than the right lung because it has to accommodate the heart. The heart is supplied by the coronary circulation and is enclosed in the pericardial sac.
Your heart has four chambers, two upper atria, the receiving chambers, and two lower ventricles, the discharging chambers. The upper chambers are called the left and right atria, and the lower chambers are called the left and right ventricles. A wall of muscle called the septum separates the left and right atria and the left and right ventricles. The left ventricle is the largest and strongest chamber in your heart. The left ventricle’s chamber walls are only about a half-inch thick, but they have enough force to push blood through the aortic valve and into your body.
The Heart Valves
Four valves regulate blood flow through your heart:
- The tricuspid valve regulates blood flow between the right atrium and right ventricle.
- The pulmonary valve controls blood flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen.
- The mitral valve lets oxygen-rich blood from your lungs pass from the left atrium into the left ventricle.
- The aortic valve opens the way for oxygen-rich blood to pass from the left ventricle into the aorta, your body’s largest artery.
- All four heart valves lie along the same plane. The valves ensure unidirectional blood flow through the heart and prevent backflow
The Conduction System
Electrical impulses from your heart muscle cause your heart to contract. This electrical signal begins in the sinoatrial (SA) node, located at the top of the right atrium. The SA node is sometimes called the heart’s “natural pacemaker.” An electrical impulse from this natural pacemaker travels through the muscle fibers of the atria and ventricles, causing them to contract. Although the SA node sends electrical impulses at a certain rate, your heart rate may still change depending on physical demands, stress or hormonal factors.
The Circulatory System
The heart and circulatory system make up your cardiovascular system. Your heart works as a pump that pushes blood to the organs, tissues, and cells of your body. Blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to every cell and removes the carbon dioxide and waste products made by those cells. Blood is carried from your heart to the rest of your body through a complex network of arteries, arterioles and capillaries. Blood is returned to your heart through venules and veins. If all the vessels of this network in your body were laid end-to-end, they would extend for about 60,000 miles (more than 96,500 kilometers), which is far enough to circle the earth more than twice!
Leading Causes of Heart Failure
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was the most common cause of death globally in 2008, accounting for 30% of cases. Of these deaths more than three quarters were due to coronary artery disease and stroke. Risk factors include: smoking, being overweight, not enough exercise, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and poorly controlled diabetes among others. Diagnosis of CVD is often done by listening to the heart-sounds with a stethoscope, ECG or by ultrasound. Diseases of the heart are primarily treated by cardiologists, although many specialties of medicine may be involved. Coronary artery disease and heart attack. Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and the most common cause of heart failure. Over time, arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle narrow from a buildup of fatty deposits, a process called atherosclerosis.
Heart failure often develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened your heart. Over time, the heart can no longer keep up with the normal demands placed on it to pump blood to the rest of your body. The main pumping chambers of your heart (the ventricles) may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. Also, your heart muscle may weaken, and the ventricles stretch (dilate) to the point that the heart can’t pump blood efficiently throughout your body. The term “congestive heart failure” comes from blood backing up into — or congesting — the liver, abdomen, lower extremities and lungs. However, not all heart failure is congestive. You might have shortness of breath or weakness due to heart failure and not have any fluid building up. Heart failure can involve the left side, right side or both sides of your heart. Typically, heart failure begins with the left side — specifically the left ventricle, your heart’s main pumping chamber.
Your grandmother, father, cousin or even your great aunt may have heart disease but even with a strongly inherited predisposition to the condition you can cut your risks dramatically by pursuing a heart healthy lifestyle and it’s easier than you think. You might think that getting fit and boosting your heart health means spending hours upon hours at the gym, sweating and getting on machines that look more like torture devices than anything that’s going to help you. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not true. In fact, reaping the heart-healthy benefits of exercise doesn’t have to take a huge time commitment – nor does it have to be torturous. It can actually be quite fun!
The heart, together with the arteries that feed it, is one big muscle! So how do you get a healthier heart, right now? The answer sounds too good to be true, just by simply leading a healthier life. With all the mixed messages about “good” and “bad” foods in the media, it’s not surprising that many people just give up trying to figure out what they should eat. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Our research has shown that the No. 1 thing people are confused about when it comes to heart health is what the best diet is. That’s why we want to share these tips and facts that are proven to keep a smile on your face and on your heart!
Over 800,000 Americans died from heart attacks and other cardiac illnesses last year, but most of those deaths, four out of five were preventable. Don’t be one of those 800,000 Americans. Adopt some of these Healthy Heart tips to help you be on your way to building a healthy heart that will last a lifetime.
1. Start with Activities you Love
If you’ve had problems making exercise a regular part of your life, then I imagine you only think of exercise as something you have to do in the gym. But that’s just not true! Things like walking, dancing in your living room, bowling and even cleaning the house can count as exercise as long as you’re getting a little out of breath when you’re doing them.
So sit down and make a list of all of the active things you do and find a way to make at least one of them a part of your day, every day. Then, after a few months of making those activities habits, try new ones or more traditional workouts like a group exercise class. As you get in the habit of being active and start to get more fit, you might just be amazed and what activities you like.
2. Don’t Smoke or use Tobacco
Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure and heart rate by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen. Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than are those who don’t do either because both smoking and taking birth control pills increase the risk of blood clots.
When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke. Even so-called “social smoking” — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — is dangerous and increases the risk of heart disease. The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about five years. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.
3. Know your heart health numbers.
Establish a baseline to help plan every preventive step for the rest of the year. You need to know if you are at risk before you can take action to lower your risk. Know your HDL or “good” cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, total cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, weight and body mass index (BMI) numbers. And make an appointment now for a check-up to see if your new healthy habits are making the grade.
4. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Of the types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat — saturated fat and trans fat are the ones to try to limit or avoid. Try to keep saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. And, try to keep trans fat out of your diet altogether.
Major sources of saturated fat include:
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Coconut and palm oils
Sources of trans fat include:
- Deep-fried fast foods
- Bakery products
- Packaged snack foods
If the nutrition label has the term “partially hydrogenated,” it means that product contains trans fat.
Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though. Healthy fats from plant-based sources, such as avocado, nuts, olives and olive oil, help your heart by lowering the bad type of cholesterol. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease but also may help prevent cancer and improve diabetes. Eating several servings a week of certain fish, such as salmon and mackerel, may decrease your risk of heart attack.
Following a heart-healthy diet also means keeping an eye on how much alcohol you drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s better for your heart to do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. At that moderate level, alcohol can have a protective effect on your heart. More than that becomes a health hazard.
5. Embrace the Power of 10
Think you can’t get heart-health benefits from just 10-minute bouts of activity? Think again. Ten minutes of walking three times a day has been shown to lower blood pressure more effectively than a longer 30-minute bout of walking. Something as simple as walking before work, over lunch and after dinner is a fabulous way to squeeze in exercise – no gym required!
6. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight, especially if you carry excess weight around your middle, ups your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:
- Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
- Women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm).
Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 5 to 10 percent can help decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.
7. Use exercise to De-stress
Stress plays a critical role in heart health, and exercise is great at kicking stress to the curb. Learn to see exercise not as something that you have to do, but instead as something you want to do because it makes you feel good. While most workouts will pump up your feel-good endorphins, workouts like yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are especially good for de-stressing and improving the mind-body connection. Try ‘em!
8. It’s not just about Cardio
When people think of heart-healthy exercise, they generally think of aerobic or cardio activities like jogging. But did you know that strength training (think lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and lunges) can improve the health of your ticker, too? When you lift weights at a moderate intensity, you get your heart rate up. This means that you’re working both your muscular system and your cardiovascular system. And when you make your muscles stronger, you make your body stronger, which helps everything. So definitely do some resistance training a few times a week.
9. Go for Nuts and Plant Sterols
Your heart will love you if you eat six walnuts before lunch and dinner. Why? Because walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to decrease inflammation in the arteries surrounding your heart, so they keep your heart functioning longer and better. Walnuts will also make you feel fuller faster so you are less likely to overeat at meals. You may want to give pistachios a try as well. A recent study shows that a serving or two of pistachios each day may help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, as long as you are mindful of calories. One cup of pistachio nuts has about 700 calories!
Other nuts, such as peanuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds are a rich source of plant sterols, which block cholesterol absorption in the intestines. Studies have shown that eating foods enriched with plant sterols lowers LDL cholesterol. Eating 2-3 grams a day lowers LDL cholesterol by 6-15%, without affecting HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Sterols are found in all plant foods, but the highest concentrations are found in unrefined oils, such as vegetable, nut, and olive oil. Some foods have also been fortified with plant sterols, including milk, yogurt, juices and spreads.
10. Healthy Nutrients your Heart Craves
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fiber.
- Eat fish at least twice a week.
- Limit how much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol you eat. Only 30% of your daily calories should come from fat, with very little of that from saturated fats.
- Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
- Limit your salt intake.
11. Get Heart Healthy Social Support
You know exercise improves heart health by keeping weight down and raising levels of HDL cholesterol, but doing it with a friend adds benefits. Finding an exercise buddy is really important because social support lowers your risk of heart disease and helps you stay motivated. Build up to 60 minutes of exercise a day, but even 20 minutes is better than nothing.
In fact, being married and having a strong social network may help protect against heart disease, according to a study of nearly 15,000 men and women. It turns out that people who have a spouse, go to church, join social clubs, and have a lot of friends and relatives have significantly lower blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors than loners.
12. Keep your Regular Check ups
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
- Blood pressure. Regular blood pressure screenings usually start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more-frequent checks if your numbers aren’t ideal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
- Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20 if they have risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity or high blood pressure. If you’re healthy, you can start having your cholesterol screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a strong family history of heart disease.
- Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Talk to your doctor about when you should have a fasting blood sugar test to check for diabetes. Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend early screening for diabetes. If your weight is normal and you don’t have other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.
13. Drink a little Alcohol a day to keep Heart Disease away
For women, up to one glass of alcohol a day and, for men, up to two glasses a day can help reduce risk of heart disease. Alcohol may help the heart by increasing levels of HDL cholesterol. But keep in mind: More is not merrier. Alcohol also has calories and too much can cause high blood pressure, worsen heart failure, and cause heart rhythm abnormalities.
14. Measure your waist size to gauge your Heart Health
Take a tape measure and measure your middle. If your waist size is more than 35 inches in women or more than 40 inches in men, this tells you that you are at increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The best way to make a dent in that spare tire? “Get serious about being more active and get rid of simple sugar and white-floured foods in your diet, adding that these foods tend to take up residence right around the middle.
15. Low Salt intake to Low Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and reducing salt intake can help lower blood pressure. Cook with herbs in place of salt and make sure you read food labels to see just how much salt is in prepared foods. Aim for less than 2.3 grams [about a teaspoon] of salt per day. And keep up the good work when you are dining out. Ask for the sauce and salad dressings on the side because restaurant food tends to be heavily salted.
16. Sleep to your Heart’s Content
People who sleep fewer than seven hours a night have higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making the arteries more vulnerable to plaque buildup. In fact, the latest research shows that people who do not get enough sleep are more than twice as likely as others to die of heart disease. Try to avoid caffeine after noon and develop a stress-free wind-down ritual before bed. Hint? Take a bath and don’t pay your bills right before bed.
17. Go for Whole Grains
Refined or processed foods are lower in fiber content, so make whole grains an integral part of your diet. There are many simple ways to add whole grains to your meals.
- Breakfast better. For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal—one with five or more grams of fiber per serving. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Try a new grain. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, and bulgur. These alternatives are higher in fiber than their more mainstream counterparts—and you may find you love their tastes.
- Bulk up your baking. When baking at home, substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour, since whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer. Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes, and cookies.
- Add flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir a teaspoon of them into yogurt, applesauce, or hot cereal.
18. Shop for Your Heart
Creating a heart-friendly diet starts with stocking your fridge with healthy and accessible foods. Prepare a list before you head to the store or farmer’s market and leave a little time after your trip to set yourself up for success during the week. While scanning the aisles of a grocery store in the U.S., look for foods displaying the American Heart Association’s heart-check mark to spot heart-healthy foods. This logo means that the food has been certified to meet the American Heart Association’s criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Make healthy substitutions. Choose substitutions like 1% or skimmed milk instead of whole milk, soft margarine for butter, and lean meats like chicken and fish in place of ribs or ground meat. These substitutions can save you an entire day’s worth of saturated fat.
- Make foods ready-to-eat. When you make healthy food easy to grab during your busy week, you’re more likely to stay heart-healthy. When you come home from grocery shopping, cut up vegetables and fruits and store them in the fridge, ready for the next meal or when you are looking for a ready-to-eat snack.
- Use your freezer. Make healthy eating easier by freezing heart-healthy foods in individual portions. Freeze fruits such as bananas, grapes, and orange slices to make them more fun to eat for children. Be careful with portion sizes: the recommended serving of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards, while a serving of pasta should be about the size of a baseball.
19. Don’t become a Couch Potato
Sitting for hours on end increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you exercise regularly. Intermittent exercise doesn’t compensate for the time you sit. Why? The lack of movement may affect blood levels of fats and sugars. Walking around periodically and if you’re at work, standing up to talk on the phone.
20. Leaving Hostility and Depression unchecked
Are you feeling stressed, hostile, or depressed? It can take a toll on your heart. While everyone feels this way some of the time, how you handle these emotions can affect your heart health. “Those likely to internalize stress are in greater danger; research has shown a benefit to laughter and social support. And it’s helpful to be able to go to someone and talk about your problems.
Everyone wants to have a healthy heart. Still, cardiovascular disease affects more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States. The good news is that some simple, everyday habits can make a big difference in your ability to live a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips given to you and keep your ticker ticking healthfully. Thank you for visiting our website and we wish you great health!