The heart is comprised of a network of striated muscle tissue known as myocardium. This specialized muscles’ main responsibility is the constant pumping of blood throughout the body. The average human heart involuntarily beats roughly 72 beats per minute in an all-or-none action. The law of all-or-none refers to the fact that the heart will continue to beat and work as long as it is stimulated to do so.
Structure and Function
The human heart has four chambers, two superior atria and two inferior ventricles. The atria are located within the upper portion of the heart, one on the right and one on the left, and are the blood receiving chambers. The ventricles are located within the lower portion of the heart, again one on the right and one on the left, and are the blood discharging chambers. As the heart beats, its four chambers contract (systole) and relax (diastole) in a distinct fashion that allows for continuous blood flow.
The function of the right side of the heart is to collect deoxygenated blood from the body (via superior and inferior vena cavae) and pump it into the lungs so that carbon dioxide can be exchanged for oxygen. The left side of the heart then collects the oxygenated blood returned from the lungs and pumps it out to the body (via the aorta). Blood flows through the heart in one direction, from the atria to the ventricles, and out of the great arteries, such as the aorta.
Heart Disease and Heart Health
Age, sex, genetic disposition, smoking, obesity, stress, diet, as well as other medical conditions can and do affect the health of the heart. Cardiovascular disease or heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Both cardiovascular disease and heart disease are blanket terms used to collectively refer to a variety of diseases/medical conditions that affect the heart. These diseases can affect blood supply to the heart, the heart (cardiac) muscle, heart beat/rate, heart valves, the amount and rate of blood pumped through the heart, and/or the tissues around the heart that support the health and function of the heart.
Although some factors which affect the heart cannot be changed or avoided, there are several things that can be done to improve or retain the health of the heart:
- Eat a health diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants that protect cells from damaging free radicals and necessary vitamins and minerals that help the body perform optimally. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide fiber which not only helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from food, but also the amount of cholesterol that has already been stored within the body.
- Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel provide omega 3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanenoic acid (DHA). Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be effective in reducing overall cholesterol levels and triglycerides, improving blood flow and pressure, and may help to reduce the occurrence of the more severe outcomes of heart disease. For vegetarians or those who have fish allergies, flax seeds or flax seed oil provides a nice alternative.
- Avoid fried or fatty foods and excessive sugar and sodium intake as much as possible. Eating or drinking products like these often affect weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.
- Lose weight or try to retain a healthy weight. Obesity strains the heart as well as the body overall and has been associated with several severe health related conditions.
- Exercise often. Exercise can take may forms such as vigorous walking or running, working out at a gym, or just doing yoga or a workout video at home. Exercising on a regular basis helps to reduce stress, retain a healthy weight, and helps to keep bones, muscles and the heart strong.
- Do not smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation. Both vices can have damaging affects on the body tissues themselves and how the body functions.
- Supplement when necessary and under the approval of a healthcare provider. Resveratrol, omega 3 fatty acids, coenzyme-Q10, and several other supplements have proven to be effective in helping retain and support healthy heart functioning.
The heart is a very strong, intricate, and yet delicate mechanism that cannot be lived without. Often individuals never think that what happens to others, such as having a heart attack, could happen to them until it is too late. Though growing older does increase the possibility of heart problems, they can occur at any age. The best course of action for keeping the heart healthy is to do as much as possible to prevent damage, not try and retain what is left after damage has occurred.