The heart is one of the most important and hardest working organs of the human body. It is a muscular pump that is the main part of the cardiovascular system and it is roughly the size of a fist. While it has been romanticized by poets, writers, and lovers, the heart has a basic, yet essential, purpose. That purpose is to pump oxygenated blood to the body and deoxygenated blood to the lungs.
A person's heart beats continuously from its first beat in the womb to the moment of death. During infancy, it beats around 120 times a minute. The number of beats per minute decreases as the person grows from infancy to adolescence. From then on, the heart rate stabilizes to an average of 72 beats per minute.
The four-chambered heart is divided so that there are two sides, a right, and a left. Each side comprises an upper chamber called an atrium, and a lower chamber called a ventricle. A blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body is called an artery, while a vein carries blood from the body back to the heart. Venous blood enters the heart at the right atrium and then flows into the right ventricle from where it is pumped into the lungs by way of the pulmonary artery.
The lungs remove carbon dioxide from the blood and replace it with oxygen. The now oxygen-rich blood leaves the lungs and enters the left atrium by way of the pulmonary vein from where it flows into the left ventricle. The left ventricle, in turn, pumps the oxygenated blood out to the body through the aorta, so that it can nourish tissues and organs. The pulmonary artery is the only artery in the body that carries deoxygenated blood, and the pulmonary vein is the only vein that carries oxygenated blood. The following links shed more light on the anatomy of the human heart and how blood flows through it.
California State University, Long Beach - The Human Heart: An overview of the anatomy of the human heart. Other sections in the article include blood flow, aorta, and high blood pressure.
Physiology Tutorial - The Human Heart: This website reviews the parts of the heart and how it functions. The page includes an illustration of the pathway of blood flow through the heart and a second illustration that details the conduction system of the heart.
Heart Diagrams: This link will take the reader to illustrated views of the heart. Each view includes a legend that corresponds with the numbered parts of the heart.
Regular Exercise for Regular Benefits
Because of its importance, the heart must be kept as healthy as possible. To do this, one must modify some behaviors. Two of the primary changes that must be made is to one's diet and level of activity. A healthy body weight reduces excess strain on the heart. Additionally, it also reduces one's risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. For a healthy heart, people should exercise for no less than 30 minutes a day. Exercise should be moderately intense and performed as frequently as possible.
For Better Heart Health Exercise Harder, Not Longer: This is a Time Magazine article that reviews a ten-year Denmark study on cardiovascular health. The article reveals the details of the study results regarding exercise and heart health.
Cardiology Patient Page - Exercise and Cardiovascular Health: This is an article that appears on the American Heart Association® website. The page provides the reader with information on the benefits of exercise, risks, how to begin, and how much exercise is enough for good heart health.
Heart Disease: Exercising for a Healthy Heart: This is a website that addresses the importance of exercise and heart health.
How Safe Moderate Exercise Can Keep Your Heart Healthy: This is an article that appears on the Health Magazine website. The article reviews how exercise is beneficial to the heart. This two-page article also reviews how to keep exercise safe.
Exercise's Effects on the Heart: This is a New York Times article that explores how exercise affects the heart. Sections within this article discuss exercise programs for high-risk individuals and risk of a heart attack or other problems during exercise.
Healthy Foods for a Healthy Heart
Changes to one's diet include drastically reducing or eliminating certain types of fats. Fats that are bad for the heart and overall health include saturated fats and trans fats. These are found in foods such as red meat, dairy products, deep-fried foods, packaged snacks, and margarine. These elevate blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of coronary artery disease. A heart-healthy diet includes eating foods such as whole grains, and albacore tuna and salmon which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Reducing your amount of sodium intake also helps to reduce blood pressure, healthy adults should not be consuming more than 2,300 mg/day. Eating as much as ten servings a day of vegetables and fruits will also lower one's risk of cardiovascular disease.
Mayo Clinic - Heart-Healthy Diet: Eight Steps to Prevent Heart Disease: This article gives the reader eight strategies for eating healthy. Each numbered strategy is explained in detail.
Medline Plus - Heart Disease and Diet: This article provides readers with nutrition tips to lower the risk of heart disease.
Healthy Heart Diet: This is an article from The British Heart Foundation. The article provides the reader with the recommended guidelines for a heart healthy eating plan.
Heart and Vascular Health & Prevention - Heart Healthy Diet: This article appears on the website for Cleveland Clinic. It discusses and lists foods that help keep the heart fit and functioning.
University of Maryland Medical Center - Heart-Healthy Diet: People reading this page will find several recommendations on how to have a diet that is heart healthy. The page also includes sections that deal with nutrition basics, diet plans, and changes in lifestyle.
Quitting smoking is also a smart move when it comes to protecting one's heart. Smoking causes one's heart rate and blood pressure to increase, which puts an extra strain on the heart. It also reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, as a result, the heart must work harder to get the oxygen that it needs, which also increases the heart rate and blood pressure.
Heart rate and blood pressure increase for approximately one hour after smoking one cigarette, these effects can be lasting for chronic smokers and can lead to long-term cardiovascular disease. Chemicals in cigarette smoke are also damaging to the arteries which cause a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of one's arteries and can eventually lead to a heart attack.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
It is very important for everyone to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. This is because the earlier a heart attack is identified and managed, the better the outcome. The following links describe the symptoms of a heart attack. If you suspect that you or anyone around you is having any of these signs and symptoms, call 911 immediately.
What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?: This article lists common signs and symptoms that are associated with a heart attack. It also tells the reader what to do in the event of a heart attack. This is an article on the National Heart,Lung, and Blood Institute website.
Heart Failure Signs and Symptoms: This article from the UCSF Medical Center website lists and explains different types of heart failure as well as symptoms that are associated with them.
Six Surprising Heart Disease Warning Signs: This is an ABC News article that reviews some heart disease warning signs that most people are not aware of. It also explains what people should do about them.
Symptoms that Might Indicate a Heart Problem in Children: This page lists symptoms that may indicate heart problems in infants, toddlers, children, and teens. This list is on The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia website.
After calling 911, and while EMS are on their way, start CPR if you are trained in it. CPR is a basic life support skill that can help save lives in emergency situations.
- CPR Training Online: This link is for an online training course for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and basic life support. Being certified shows that you have the knowledge and skills to save a life.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Unhealthy eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle can put you at risk of developing heart disease. Check the following links to understand the different types of heart disease and their risk factors.
Heart Disease: This link will take the reader to National, Heart, Lung and Blood institute website. The reader will also be able to click on links for additional information on risk factors.
The Scripps Research Institute - Heart Disease Research: Clicking on this link will take the reader to information on heart disease, its risk factors, and areas of recent research.
This is a patient's guide to heart transplant surgery. It explains the two most common types of heart disease and how they cause heart failure. Symptoms and treatment are also included.
Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: This is a PDF that reviews controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It also explains what you can do about controllable factors.
Heart Disease Facts: This page provides factual answers to common questions about heart disease. Readers will learn what heart disease is and its risk factors and causes.
A person's heart works tirelessly from the time that it forms and throughout life. In return, it is important that people take care of this vital organ. Adopting healthy routines such as changes to diet and regular exercise is absolutely necessary. If a person recognizes signs of heart disease such as fatigue, chest pain, or swelling of the extremities, he or she should consult a physician as quickly as possible.
See also our guide to hypertension for addressing this specific heart issue.
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