Despite being roughly the size of only a large fist and weighing between about 10 to 12 ounces in men and 8 to 10 ounces in women, the heart is the most vital organ in the human body. With its four chambers, the upper ones called the atrium and the lower ones called the ventricles, the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, providing oxygen and nutrition to the body, while removing carbon dioxide and other waste materials. The role of the heart is so vital, that in case there are disruptions to its normal workings, the entire body suffers from the consequences and in severe situations can shut down completely i.e. result in the death of the individual. As a result, ensuring health and wellbeing of the heart is extremely important to make sure that the rest of the body’s organs continue functioning well. However, heart diseases are not uncommon. In fact heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
High cholesterol is one major condition that adversely affects the functioning of the heart. Cholesterol, normally produced by the liver helps the body build new cells and hormones and to insulate the nerves. However, cholesterol can also enter the body from the foods that we consume such as meat. High amounts of cholesterol are dangerous because they can lead to various heart conditions. One such condition is the coronary artery disease. Excessive amounts of cholesterol build up in the walls of the arteries, causing them to become damaged. As the buildup continues, the arteries become narrowed further, causing blood flow to the heart muscle to slow down or get completely blocked in a condition known as atherosclerosis. Oxygen and nutrients are cut off from the heart due to the narrowed arteries, causing chest pain. A heart attack occurs when the artery becomes completely blocked.
High blood pressure is another heart problem that one can suffer from. Blood pressure, a measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls is normally quoted as less than 120 over 80 (120/80). High blood pressure also called hypertension, and often caused due to factors such as high cholesterol levels, stress, obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, consumption of excessive amounts of processed foods or even underlying medical conditions such as kidney issues. It is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood out to the body and can contribute to hardening of the arteries, a worn out heart, stroke, and even heart failure.
In order to avoid the risk of heart diseases and have a healthy heart, doctors recommend a change in lifestyle. There are several things that can be incorporated into our everyday lifestyles and routines to ensure the best possible health of our hearts.
- Keep your cholesterol in check: Avoid trans fats at all costs. They clog the arteries by raising LDL cholesterol, normally known as ‘bad cholesterol ‘and lowering HDL cholesterol levels, normally known as ‘good cholesterol’. Packaged baked goods, snack foods, margarines, fried and fast foods are high in trans fats.
- Maintain healthy blood pressure level: High blood pressure can easily be controlled by cutting back on salt, alcohol and tobacco. Exercising and eating healthy foods is another easy way to keep those numbers in check!
- Bust the stress: Try to meditate or visit a therapist in case you feel that your stress levels are hitting the roof. Another way to reduce stress is to prioritize responsibilities and taking one thing at a time.
- Get moving: Make it a habit to exercise for at least thirty minutes a day, five times a weak. Exercising helps keep the heart healthy and helps you live a longer and more fulfilled life.
- Eat clean: Avoid saturated and processed foods. And cut down on that salt! Eat more fruits and vegetables as opposed to greasy burgers and fried foods. Cook healthy foods for yourself and family to keep your heart healthy and young.
- Get a good night’s sleep: Sleep is an essential part of keeping your heart healthy. If you don’t sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease no matter your age or other health habits. Researchers believe sleeping too little causes disruptions in underlying health conditions and biological processes, including blood pressure and inflammation.
- Eat chocolate: you read that right. Eating dark chocolate is actually good for the heart because it contains heart-healthy flavonoids. These compounds help reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease. So get munching!
- Eat nuts: Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other tree nuts deliver a powerful punch of heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Include them in your diet to help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. But don’t go overboard because they are high in calories.
- Brew a cup of tea: Tea is linked to lower rates of angina and heart attacks. Green tea helps lower LDL cholesteroland triglycerides and ginseng tea lowers blood pressure by relaxing the arteries.
- Lose weight: Find out the appropriate Body Mass Index for yourself and push yourself to shed those extra pounds. Staying fit not only helps improve your heart health, it also gives a boost to your confidence.
If you’re someone who’s worried about your heart’s health, don’t fret too much. Take it slow and try to incorporate the steps mentioned above slowly but steadily into your life. Because in all honesty, a life not lived with the best of health isn’t really worth living.