The heart is a symbol of love and the only part of your body that during your entire life never takes a day off. And today more than ever, we are aware of how important it is for our health, as heart diseases have become the number one cause of mortality in the developed world.
The heart has always had a very important role in our culture. Just turn on the radio, and you will certainly hear a song about matters of the heart. So to take you on this journey, we have borrowed titles of the famous songs to introduce you to the heart, how it works, and how to keep it healthy.
Shape of my heart
The heart is responsible for circulating blood. Its structure varies between living organisms – from a straight tube in spiders to a complex double pump with 4 chambers in mammals and birds.
Our heart, or cardiac muscle, is divided down the middle into a right and left heart, and both sides are further divided into two chambers: upper atrium and lower ventricle. The two atria receive blood that is entering the heart, and ventricles, which are more muscular, push the blood out of the heart.
One half of our heart directs the blood to the lungs. There it picks up oxygen from the air we inhale, ditches carbon dioxide, and returns to the other half of the heart. From there our biggest blood vessel, the aorta, sends it on its oxygen-delivering journey. Your aorta is as thick as a garden hose! If you imagine the strength with which water gushes out of it, you get the idea of the strength of your own heart.
Don’t go breaking my heart
As strong as our heart is, we can still do it much harm by living unhealthy lives. Each of us has to be aware of the risk factors and what we can do to avoid an “achy breaky heart”.
Risk factors for developing heart diseases are numerous, and while the majority are under our control, some are not. Those include old age, family history of heart diseases, being postmenopausal (for women) and being male.
Give your heart a break
And now the good news: the majority of risk factors for heart diseases is under your control. Let’s take a look at the ones you can influence, how your genetic predispositions are involved, and what you can do to give your heart a break and make its job a bit easier!
Quit smoking and avoid cigarette smoke. Smoking is the most preventable risk factor, which increases your chances of suffering from a heart attack twofold. And if it comes to the heart attack, smokers are much more likely to die from it. Did you know that your genes can help you quit this nasty habit?
Focus on proper nutrition. Avoid salt, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and refined sugar. Instead, fill your plate full of antioxidants which protect your heart. You might be genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, lack of vitamins, or you may have “sweet tooth” written in your genes. Proper nutrition is crucial for protecting you from diabetes which also has a genetic component. All this, along with genetic variants that affect how your body handles fats and carbs, is a solid foundation for adjusting your nutrition to support your heart’s health.
Be active. Physical activity is your ally in ensuring a healthy heart. You should exercise at least 30 minutes each day. The more vigorous the activity, the more it benefits you. Physical activity also helps you keep your blood pressure within an optimal range. But should you choose running or yoga? Consult your genes! Based on your muscle structure and other sports-related traits, you will be able to select the optimal type of physical activity for you.
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. There is a lot of truth in the English proverb “Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork”. Food can be either poison or medicine, and a healthy weight means a healthy heart. Weight management starts on your plate, but it is heavily influenced by the yo-yo effect, the fat burning gene, risk of obesity, and other genetically predisposed weight-related traits. Knowing them helps you to take off weight faster, more effectively, and permanently.
Manage stress effectively. Did you know that heart attacks happen most often on Monday mornings? Your stress hormones are the highest when you wake up. Add to that the anxiety of having to return to work after the weekend off … No wonder we dislike Mondays! To protect your heart from the dangers of the new week, learn how you respond to and handle stress. And that, too, is determined by your genes, which tell if you are a warrior or a worrier.
By now, we hope that you are belting out one of the songs we have put into the titles, and have taken our advice to heart. Take good care of it, and it will return the favour by continuing to beat vigorously for you – day after day.