Heart Health: Top Tips for a Happy Healthy Heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day! – Lets get your heart racing, healthy and happy !

The human heart and its functions.

The heart is one of the most fundamental organs in the body.

Physically, it consists of muscle, and is approximately the size of a fist, located slightly to the left side of the chest. The heart works like a pump; sending life-giving blood, (hence, oxygen), around the body; keeping it alive.

The structure of the heart consists of a left and right side which are separated by a thin muscular wall known as the septum. The heart has four chambers, two upper chambers, known as the right and left atrium, or atria, and two lower chambers known as the ventricles. The atria receives the blood and the ventricles eject the blood.

The left and right side of the heart each function independently of each other. The right-hand side of the heart receives the deoxygenated blood which has just traveled around the body. This deoxygenated blood is then pumped to the lungs to collect a fresh supply of oxygen. Once the blood is reoxygenated, the left side of the heart pumps this oxygenated blood around the body again.

The heart involuntarily beats around 100,000 times each day and pumps about 5 liters of blood throughout the body via our circulatory system, (a network of blood vessels), good thing we didn’t have to think about that for it to happen!

The oxygenated blood carries oxygen, nutrients and hormones to all our body cells/ organs. The other side of the body carries unwanted, waste gasses such as carbon dioxide via deoxygenated blood.

Our heart is linked to our circulatory system which consists of blood vessels called arteries and veins. The veins and arteries are connected by even smaller blood vessels called capillaries. Arteries transport oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body and the veins return the deoxygenated blood from the organs back to the heart.

What causes heart function to go wrong? (What breaks the heart?) and how to prevent this?

A gradual buildup of fatty substances in the arteries called atheroma can cause the diameter of the arteries to narrow, restricting blood flow through them. If the heart/ brain/ organs do not receive enough oxygen via the blood supply, it can lead to circulatory and heart diseases such as a myocardial infarction (or heart attack) and strokes to occur.

There are several risks factors which can increase the likelihood of heart and or circulatory issues including:

    • Poorly managed diabetes
    • Elevated blood cholesterol
    • Elevated blood pressure
    • High BMI; overweight or obese

There are lifestyle changes which can be implemented to reduce your risk of developing circulatory and heart diseases.

Positive lifestyle behaviors which can improve heart-health:

    • Daily participation in physical activity (at least 30+ mins of cardiovascular exercise a day; 10,000 steps/day; AND strength training at least twice a week), more is always better.
    • Consumption of healthy fats (omega-3, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats) found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines & trout), avocado, nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts), seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds) and healthy cold-pressed oils (olive, canola, flaxseed, sesame, grapeseed, sunflower, avocado and walnut oils).
    • Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables (a least 5 a day).
    • Herbs and spices for their anti-inflammatory properties (such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, oregano and allspice) .
    • Foods rich in calcium (dairy, leafy greens and tofu).
    • Increasing fibre-rich foods (pulses, beans, whole-grains, oats)
    • Maintaining hydration -this will ensure you maintain a good blood flow.

Negative lifestyles behaviors which can harm the health of your heart include

    • Increased processed meat consumption (e.g. burgers/ sausage/ bacon)
    • High sugar intake (e.g. cakes, biscuits, pastries, sweets)
    • High alcohol consumption; drink responsibly, try to have at least 2 alcohol-free days a week or more, no more than 14 units per week (3-4 per day)
    • Avoid smoking, speak to your GP about tools which can support your smoking cessation journey
    • High salt and trans fats: often found in junk/ fast foods or processed foods
    • High negative stress: can be linked to other unhealthy habits which can contribute to increased risk. Try to find ways to rest and take time away from constant stressful situations/ lifestyles. Consider time off, exercise, walking, breathing/ relaxation techniques to help combat stress.

More support can be found at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) website or consult your general practitioner.

Healthy, Happy Hearts ♥️

Emotionally speaking, our heart has an immense capacity to love, and this has actually been found to be protective to the heart muscle. Being kind to others, including ourselves, has a real benefit to our heart health.

When we help and support others, a hormone is released; oxytocin, also known as ‘the cuddle hormone.’ Oxytocin is a stress hormone released by the pituitary gland as part of the stress response; it primes us to do things involving human connections, enhancing our ability to have empathy for one another. When we are stressed, our bodies motivate us to connect to each other, isn’t that just amazing!

Oxytocin actually protects our cardiovascular system from the effects of stress; it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. Our heart has receptors for this hormone, and helps heart cells regenerate and heal from stress-induced damage; this stress hormone ultimately strengthens our heart, all these benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social interaction and social support. Therefore, when we reach out to others, either to seek support or offer our support, we release more of this hormone; in time, our stress response becomes healthier and we recover faster from stress. This stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience; this resilience is human connection; caring and displaying acts of kindness creates resilience to stress!

This positive stress hormone gives us access to our hearts! So let’s look after that heart and each other!

It’s good to be kind, studies show; science agrees too!

Happy LOVE day! Happy hearts make healthy hearts ♥️

Please note the information provided here should not take place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your healthcare providers (doctor, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in and questions about what may be best for your overall health.

 
References

BBC Good Food: Heart-healthy diet: what to eat 

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-eat-heart-health

British Heart Foundation – BHF

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/how-a-healthy-heart-works

Jankowski et al., 2020. The Role of Oxytocin in Cardiovascular protection 

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02139/full

Kelly McGonigal, How to make stress your friend

https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en

Nicola Shubrook, RNutr (2019) The best sources of omega-3 

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-omega-3

NDTV Food , (2017). 6 Heart Healthy Nuts and why they’re really good for you 

https://food.ndtv.com/health/6-heart-healthy-nuts-and-why-theyre-really-good-for-you-1734488

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Disclaimer: This blog provides information that should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your healthcare providers (doctor, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in and questions about what may be best for your overall health.

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