It’s American Heart Month, so throughout February, I’ll be sharing information and resources to help you keep one of the most important organs in your body, healthy and well.
Did you know your heart beats approximately 120,000 times a day and filters 2,000 gallons of blood within the same timeframe? Impressive, considering it’s only the size of your fist!
This magnificent organ is located on the left side of your chest and its job is to filter and deliver clean blood throughout your body. It receives all the clean blood from the lungs after all carbon dioxide has been removed, so it can deliver fresh blood, rich with oxygen and vital nutrients to each one of your cells, organs, and tissues.
Your heart is like a piping system – the pipes being your arteries and blood vessels. The arteries and blood vessels bring the blood in, clean it, and deliver it, so the heart can pump it out. In addition, the heart also relies on electricity – this electricity is supplied by the nervous system and helps the heart to contract. The health of our heart is dependant upon this electricity to pump blood through the body, and the “pipes” being clean and clear, so blood can easily move through them.
Another important factor to address when considering heart health is blood pressure. Your blood pressure is a measure of the pressure of circulating blood on the walls of your blood vessels. If we have high blood pressure, the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high. It’s like a hose turned on at full capacity!
The ideal blood pressure is 120 over 70. If it is higher than this for a prolonged period of time, the increased pressure can damage or weaken the arterial walls and potentially cause a blood clot to occur. A clot is the buildup of blood, cells, and tissues as a result of breaking or shedding some of the arterial lining.
You can keep your blood pressure at the ideal level by eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercising regularly, and keeping your stress levels low – your heart is controlled by your nervous system, so if the nervous system is in distress, blood pressure will rise.
If you are concerned about the health of your heart, your doctor can check the integrity of your heart with an electrocardiogram, or EKG. This common test is typically performed in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. During an EKG, sensors are attached to your chest and sometimes your limbs. They can detect the electrical activity of your heart and allow your healthcare practitioner to see if there are any heart defects that need to be addressed.
Your doctor may also recommend an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart if defects are suspected. This will allow them to see if the arteries and blood vessels are free and clear, or full of plaque – fat, cholesterol, calcium, and triglycerides. Over time, plaque can harden and narrow your arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body. This increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Without your heart, you wouldn’t survive, so it’s essential to keep it healthy and well by making sure your heart is structurally sound, and that your blood pressure and cholesterol are at levels that promote the health of this essential organ. I’ll talk you through ways to make this happen in the next blog posts in this series.