Your heart is the center of your cardiovascular system, and is responsible for just about everything that gives your body life, ranging from the transportation of oxygen throughout your body to the success of your immune system. The foods you eat and the amount of activity you choose to take part in can dramatically affect the overall health of your heart and many other tissues that make up your cardiovascular system.
The Heart Itself
Think of your heart, a muscular organ about the size of your fist, as a pump that sits in your chest just to the left of the center of your body. It is divided into 2 sides, the right and the left. This division protects oxygen-rich blood from mixing with blood with no oxygen. Your blood with no oxygen returns to the heart after circulating through your body.
Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, occurs when there is a flaw with a function of the heart. It is also the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, accounting for 1 out of 4 deaths.
According to the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, the following are risk factors that can lead to heart disease: High blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, diabetes and prediabetes smoking, being overweight, having a family history of heart disease, eating an unhealthy diet, aging, physical inactivity, unrelieved stress, poor hygiene, and gender.
Taking Better Care of Your Heart
For the sake of your heart health, your blood pressure needs to be checked regularly and monitored closely when it’s too high. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can be affected by your weight, especially if you have a body mass index of 30 or higher, which is classified as obese. The excess fat increases the work your heart has to do to pump blood throughout your body. The harder your heart works, the more pressure is placed on your arteries, which can increase your risk of damaging a blood vessel. If you're worried about high blood pressure, click here for a list of questions to ask your doctor.
Monitoring your cholesterol also plays an important role in heart health. Watching your cholesterol can decrease your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. There are two main types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL, the bad cholesterol, is found in foods with high saturated fat. In high levels, LDL cholesterol can build up in the bloodstream and turn into hard plaque. This plaque makes it difficult for blood to move through the affected arteries, increasing your risk for cardiovascular damage.
High blood pressure, cholesterol plaque buildup, and other problems related to heart disease can affect your body's ability to circulate blood efficiently throughout your body. Taking care of your heart also includes making sure you have healthy blood circulation. Good blood circulation is necessary for transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. Without proper circulation of oxygen, your tissues will begin to die.
There are many serious conditions attributed to heart disease. Some include heart failure, heart attack, stroke, an aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, and sudden cardiac arrest. Here is a description of each:
- The most common complication of heart disease is heart failure, which occurs when your heart can't pump enough blood for your body. Heart failure can result from many forms of heart disease, including heart defects or heart infections.
- A heart attack is caused by a blood clot blocking the blood flow through a blood vessel that feeds the heart, possibly damaging or destroying a part of the heart muscle.
- A stroke occurs when the arteries that lead to your brain are narrowed or blocked so that too little blood reaches your brain. A stroke is a medical emergency because brain tissue begins to die within just a few minutes of a stroke.
- An aneurysm is a serious complication that can occur anywhere in your body as a bulge in the wall of your artery. If an aneurysm bursts, you could face life-threatening internal bleeding.
- When you develop peripheral artery disease, usually your legs don't receive enough blood flow. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain while walking.
- Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness. Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency and, if not treated immediately, is fatal.
Keep It Pumping
The good news is, heart disease can usually be prevented by making healthy choices and ensuring your health is properly monitored and managed.
To keep your heart healthy, your body needs adequate amounts of exercise accompanied by a heart-healthy diet. With your doctor’s permission, strive to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. A heart-healthy diet consists of vegetables, fruits, high-fiber foods like legumes and whole grains, foods rich in omega-3s (such as salmon and nuts), lean proteins (especially fish), low-fat dairy products, and seeds.
With proper diet and exercise, as well as regular visits with your physician, you can help keep your heart strong and healthy, giving you more time with your loved ones, as well as the privilege to do what you love.