Why is It So Important to Look After Your Heart

Have you notice that no matter which article you read about exercise or a healthy diet, the heart is usually mentioned in there somewhere. So why is it so important to have a healthy lifestyle, how does it affect your heart and what can happen if things go wrong.

 Let’s start with a quick overview of the heart and circulation.The Heart and Circulation – An OverviewThe circulation is made up of three parts 1. Blood, 2. Blood Vessels and 3. The Heart. The circulation operates in a system of two loops. Both loops begin and end at the heart. The first loop starts at the heart and moves through the lungs before ending at the heart again. The second loop also begins at the heart but then moves through the rest of the body before ending at the heart. Blood is made up of many types of blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to every cell in your body. They also carry waste products to the kidneys and lungs so that they can be removed from the body. Blood vessels carry the blood around the body. Arteries generally carry blood, rich in oxygen, (red blood) from the heart and veins generally carry blood, with little oxygen (blue blood), back to the heart.The heart is basically, a pump. It pumps blood through blood vessels to the lungs, then around the body to supply oxygen to the cells. The heart need to pump with enough pressure to get the blood to every part of the body. This is known as blood pressure and must be very carefully balanced.So together these three parts of the circulation supply all of your body cells with the nutrients and oxygen they need and then carry the waste products away to be disposed of. Quite simple really…. until something goes wrong. Blood PressureHave you ever had your blood pressure taken and been given a weird set of numbers for the result. How do you know if it’s ok or not, and why is blood pressure such a big deal anyway? To understand why it is so important we first need to understand what exactly it is. The heart has four chambers. The heart muscle contracts and pushes blood out. This is when most pressure is exhorted on the blood vessels and is known as systolic pressure. Then the heart relaxes so blood can fill up the chambers again ready for the next contraction. This is known as diastolic pressure. When your blood pressure is taken. It measures the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure. So you end up with two numbers e.g. 120/70 (120 being the systolic pressure and 70 being the diastolic pressure). A measurement of 120/70 is a good blood pressure result. If the pressure rises then there is a danger of causing damage to the internal walls of the blood vessels. It also puts greater stress on the heart. The heart itself is a muscle and needs its own supply of blood to get oxygen to the muscle cells. If the heart needs to work harder then it needs more oxygen which puts greater stress on the heart muscle which in turn needs even more oxygen and so the downward cycle continues.Consequences Of A Poor LifestyleSo what happens if you have a poor diet and don’t exercise? If you over eat and you consume more energy than your body needs you will become over weight. If you consider an overweight body, it has more tissue that needs blood rich oxygen. Therefore the heart has to work harder to get nutrients and oxygen to these areas. This puts more stress on the heart. So its muscle needs to grow to cope with the increased demand. The heart then has more muscle but now it needs a greater amounts of oxygen and nutrients itself to meet its own needs. So if you are overweight it is more difficult to exercise because the demand for oxygen to the heart is difficult to fulfil. This is why overweight people become tired quickly and need to rest more often. There are a number of consequences for the heart leading to some of the diseases listed below.Atherosclerosis – also known as arteriosclerotic vascular disease or ASVD) is a thickening of an artery wall due to the accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterol and is known as a plaque. It is commonly known as hardening of the arteries. It is caused by the formation of plaques within the arteries and can reduce the blood flow. This can lead to a reduction in the supply of oxygen causing the cells to die off.Coronary Artery Disease – is the result of the continued build-up of plaques on the walls of the coronary arteries. Angina – also known as angina pectoris is severe chest pain due to a lack of oxygen (blood supply) to the heart muscle. It may be due to an obstruction in the blood vessel caused by a buildup of a plaque.Thrombosis – is the formation of a blood clot in the circulation. If the clot reaches smaller narrow blood vessels it may cause a blockage, this prevents oxygen carrying blood from reaching the cells after the block. They die due to the lack of oxygen. It may be caused if a plaque breaks away from the blood vessel wall.Myocardial Infarction – (also known as a heart attack) is the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die. The heart tissue is known as the myocardium. It is most commonly caused by a blockage of a coronary artery (the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart muscle). This can occur if a plaque breaks away from the blood vessel wall and restricts the blood supply resulting in an oxygen shortage. If left untreated for a sufficient period of time it can cause damage or death (infarction) of heart muscle.Heart Failure – areas of the heart muscle have died but the heart is still working, however it cannot pump enough meet the demands of the body and may eventually lead to cardiac arrest.Cardiac Arrest – If enough heart muscle dies it may stop the heart completely. This is known as a cardiac arrest. Sometimes the heart can be restarted but the heart muscle will be considerably weaker and may not be able to supply enough blood to meet the demands of the body.How Can A Healthy Diet And Exercise Help?Just like any muscle, the heart can be strengthened by vigorous exercise. You’ve heard of a ‘cardio-workout’? Well this is what they mean. Regular exercise trains the heart to beat more efficiently so that for each contraction it can pump a greater volume of blood to the body. It puts less strain on the heart and it can easily meet the needs of the body without overworking itself. A healthy diet usually means ‘low fat’. This reduces the possibility of plaques forming so arteries stay clear and undamaged, blood can then reach all cells in the body providing the oxygen and nutrients they need. It is also a good idea to reduce the amount of salt you eat. Although the body needs some salt, too much can lead to high blood pressure. This is because salt in the blood acts like a magnet by attracting the water inside your cells. The water moves out of the cells and into your blood. This dehydrates your cells but also increases the amount of liquid in your circulation. The extra liquid exhorts pressure on the blood vessels which increases your blood pressure. If this is not corrected it may lead to damage to the blood vessel walls and the formation of plaques.So… a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are definitely good for you and especially your heart. Not only do they increase your wellbeing and confidence but they ensure you have a good quality of life for many many years to come.Look after your heart, stay healthy, be happy!

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