Heart Health 101: Ultimate Guide to a Healthy Heart
A Healthy Heart is a Healthy Life.
We often hear the expression, “listen to your heart,” and the sentiment is one that resonates across most domains of our lives- from difficult decisions we make at work to the people we choose to love. A healthy heart is a healthy life. The body has 78 organs, and while you would be hard-pressed to find someone who can point to them all, most everyone can point to their heart without thinking. Where would we be without our hearts? And what function does the heart serve, exactly?
What is the Heart?
Clench your fist, then hold it against your chest. Your fist is about the same size as your heart, and it is this mighty organ that pumps and circulates blood throughout our entire bodies. The heart is located at the circulatory center of the body and is closer to the brain as the two work closely together.
The heart is composed of four chambers– two upper chambers and two lower chambers. Its wall comprises three layers, with the middle layer being the Myocardium- a muscle layer that helps push blood from the heart’s four valves. Veins and arteries depart from the heart to transport blood to various parts of our bodies, while the heart’s ventricles relax and contract- playing an important role in causing the heart to beat.
The Function of the Heart
In most basic terms, the heart’s role is to pump blood and oxygen to the brain and throughout the body. You can only live for two minutes without a heartbeat, as the brain cannot function without oxygen any longer than this. Every day, the heart beats approximately 100,000 times and pumps about eight liters of blood throughout the body. In addition to circulating blood, the heart also filters the blood and helps remove waste from other organs, like the liver.
The Importance of Living a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
It’s never too late to start taking better care of your heart. The heart is the center of the cardiovascular system, which is responsible for transporting nutrients throughout the body and removing metabolic waste. The heart plays an integral part in maintaining a healthy immune system, protecting the body from infection, and keeping the body warm.
In the United States, heart disease causes more deaths than all other forms of cancer combined. Those are some staggering statistics, so you can never do too much to improve your heart health.
Types of Heart Disease and Heart-Related Illnesses
When you adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle, you help protect your heart from disease caused by damage to the heart as a whole and each of its components. Heart disease and illnesses that result from an unhealthy heart include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack and heart failure
- Aortic Aneurysms
- Heart infections
- Valvular heart disease
How to Live a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
Fortunately, many preventative measures are fairly simple and can be incorporated into everyday life. To keep your heart happy and healthy, consider the following:
Eat healthy fats rather than trans fats
Trans fat clogs the arteries and raises your bad cholesterol levels, thereby hampering blood flow throughout the body. Trans fats are plentiful in junk food and fast food. To avoid them, cut out packaged baked goods, margarine, and fried fast foods. Be sure to check the labels of everything you eat. Look for trans fats and hydrogenated oils and avoid them at all costs!
Practice good dental hygiene and floss…a lot!
Studies show that bacteria that cause gum disease can move into the bloodstream and create inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. In addition to brushing our teeth at least twice a day, we should also be flossing at least once a day, or even better, after each meal, especially if you’re dealing with gum disease or frequently have cavities.
Your heart is the perfect excuse to go to bed early and sleep in late. A study of 3,000 adults over the age of 45 found that adults who sleep less than 6 hours a night are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as adults who catch more shut-eye regularly. A theory for this is that sleep helps reduce inflammation throughout the body and improve circulation and that a lack of sleep disrupts the body’s natural biological processes for keeping blood pressure under control. The more sleep, the merrier!
Try not to sit so much
A lot of jobs are going remote nowadays, which means a whole lot more people have to sit in front of their computers for eight or more hours a day. A sedentary lifestyle is terrible for your health, and it’s estimated that people who spend most of their days sitting are at a 147% greater risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. If you are working remotely or have a stationary desk job, do your best to get up and take a few shorter walks throughout the day. Even better, walk to work when possible, and do your best to exercise most days of the week.
Minimize stress wherever possible
High levels of stress lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, hypertension, arrhythmias, and artery damage. Furthermore, people who are under a lot of stress are more likely to binge eat or use substances like alcohol or cigarettes. Rather than turning to these devices, other ways to minimize stress include taking a walk or meditating for ten minutes a day. And if comfort foods are your go-to, don’t stress about that either. There are healthy alternatives to many common favorites that are every bit as tasty.
Wellness in Williamson County
Researchers at UCLA found that acupuncture significantly lowers stress and improves heart function in individuals suffering from heart disease. Several acupuncture specialists are available in Williamson County, most notably the professionals at Lakeline Wellness Center in Cedar Park. Of course, one can’t go wrong with a massage. We are fortunate to have some wonderful massage therapists as our neighbors here in Wilco as well.
What is Considered a Heart-Healthy Diet
Speaking of heart-healthy superfoods, what exactly does a heart-healthy diet include? Add a little Mediterranean flair to your meal or keep it simple by incorporating more of the following into your heart-healthy recipes:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fatty fish and fish oil
- Dark Chocolate
- Olive oil
- Green tea
Locating Heart-Healthy Food in Williamson County
Wilco is a wellspring of healthy food, thanks to the many farmers, farmers markets, and even farm-to-table restaurants that call the area home. Farmer’s markets take place many days of the week, including the Savory Farmers Market at Travisso and the Taylor Heritage Square Farmers Market in Taylor. We’ve listed those farmer’s markets and more right here.
Protecting your Heart with Exercise
There are all kinds of different exercise classes and options available nowadays, from rowing to tennis and pilates. In strengthening your heart and preventing heart disease, there’s no need to get too crazy! Some of the most heart-healthy exercises are also some of the simplest. Here’s some you might enjoy:
Taking a walk:
Experts emphasize that walking for 30 minutes a day or striving to hit 10,000 steps daily is ideal in preventing heart disease. Wondering where to walk in Wilco? Luckily for us, walking paths are abundant in Williamson County.
Going for a bike ride:
For many people, walking or running is harsh on the knees or the lower back. If that’s you, there are some healthy alternatives, like biking! Whether pedaling through nature trails or on a stationary bike at home, biking provides excellent aerobic exercise. There are some stunning bike trails in Wilco. Find them here.
This total body exercise promotes a healthy heart and lungs, all the while putting less stress on the body’s bones and joints. Just 2.5 hours of swimming each week can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. We’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Wilco, and there are many opportunities to swim in nature as well.
Since heart disease is the number one threat we face,
practicing a heart-healthy lifestyle is arguably the most important thing we can do to live an overall healthy life.
We often refer to the heart when speaking about our emotions, and it’s certainly true that a heart-healthy lifestyle can bring us immense joy. Through walking or swimming in nature, enjoying massages, stressing less, and eating healthier foods, we do more than living healthily. We live happily! #healthyheart