Heart Disease – How to Keep at Bay and Live a Healthy Life
To attune a well-known saying to this article, a healthy heart makes the world go round. In other words, your world, seeing that your heart is the engine that keeps your body working, which makes it quite important to your overall state of health and wellbeing.
A healthy heart is crucial for living a long, healthy and active life and be able to carry out from the most mundane of tasks to the ones that require more stamina. And although heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in developed countries, there are ways to prevent this from happening and keep our heart in a healthy condition. In order to do this, let’s get to know more about our hearts, how they work and what are the risks of developing heart disease, among other things.
What makes your heart beat
Of all the organs in our bodies, the heart is undoubtedly the engine, with more than 80,000 beatings a day. This muscular organ is at the core of the circulatory system consisting of a network of around 100,000 blood vessels that carry blood to all the parts of our bodies.
Going a little deeper in detail, the heart is divided into two parts, each with a top chamber called the atrium and a bottom chamber, aka the ventricle.
The lungs receive blood from the right side while, in turn, the left side receives blood and oxygen from the lungs and pumps it into the circulatory system, through the largest artery called the aorta.
The heart is controlled by an electrical system that coordinates the contraction of the heart walls and subsequently, the pumping of blood in the right direction. Blood would not be able to move through the body without the heart pumping properly. This function is essential because as blood is pumped to all the regions of the body, it carries the oxygen and nutrients at the rate and amount that each organ requires.
When your body is affected by an illness or disease, the heart is also affected and it cannot pump enough blood for the organs to function properly. Which leads us to our next section.
What puts your heart at risk
If you think heart problems are specific to our modern society, you should know that according to the American Heart Association, they date way, way back to the ancient times of the pharaohs. Apparently, researches performed on 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummies revealed signs of cardiovascular disease in different parts of the circulatory system.
Fortunately, compared to those ancient times, we now have access to much more information on risk factors that may lead to heart disease but also resources to avoid ending up in such nefarious situations.
While heart disease is considered the number one cause of death worldwide, it is also the top preventable one in the US. Apart from familial predisposition which makes about 40% of the cases of heart disease, the rest is attributed to poor lifestyle habits. Which means we have surprisingly great control over our cardiac fate.
The most common risk factors we should pay attention to, in our endeavor to keep a healthy heart, are the following:
High blood pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a risk factor related to how much blood is pumped from the heart and the strain it encounters as it reaches in the vessels. As the pressure of blood in the vessels intensifies, they react by hardening and thickening their walls. Inevitably, the vessels become narrower and end up blocked by fats, causing angina or worse, heart attack.
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Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the human body. It is used to produce hormones (estrogen and testosterone) and part of the digestion process, responsible for the formation of bile, as well as in performing other functions.
Having high cholesterol means that fat surplus deposits in the blood vessels, making it difficult for the blood to flow properly. This may lead to severe results such as pain or heart attack. High cholesterol has no symptoms so the best way to find out if you have any problems is to have a blood test.
Diabetes refers to the way your body uses blood sugar, also known as glucose. Glucose is an essential energy source for the cells in the body and the brain. When it becomes too much, instead of ending up in your cells, sugar ends up in your bloodstream. Untreated, it can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease or stroke.
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Obesity is a disorder associated with an excessive amount of fat. A person diagnosed with obesity is when his/her body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher. Obesity can have genetic, behavioral and hormonal influences and it generally occurs when your calorie intake is higher than the number of calories you burn.
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As mentioned before, all the risk factors discussed may damage and harm your heart if not managed properly. Around 630,000 Americans die from heart diseases every year and 11.7% of adults (which is more than 1 in 10) have been diagnosed with some form of heart disease.
Among the range of heart diseases that people most often struggle with, cardiovascular diseases are the most widespread. These are generally associated with conditions that involve narrowed or clogged blood vessels which can cause heart attack, angina or stroke, such as the following:
- Coronary heart disease (CAD) – refers to the blockage of arteries by the plaque, a substance made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood.
- Heart attack – scientifically called myocardial infarction, this type of condition is usually caused by CAD and includes symptoms such as chest pains and heavy breathing.
- Arrhythmias –abnormal heartbeats which make it hard for the heart to pump blood properly
- Aneurysm – a bulge induced by the weakening of the vessel walls or artery
- Rheumatic heart disease – affects the heart valves and is produced by rheumatic fever
- Congenital heart disease – when the heart, veins or arteries present malformations at birth.
How to prevent heart disease
There are several important things you should do if you want to have a healthy heart and consequently, a longer and healthier life, among which, we’ve taken the liberty to list the following:
Adopt a healthy diet
Whenever you want to change something for the better, start with your diet. Although there are many opinions on what is good or bad, there is always room for a customized diet that satisfies your needs and goals.
The general idea, regardless of your purpose, is to avoid foods with a high content of saturated fats, added sugar and sodium. Sodium, for example, plays a major role in the development of high blood pressure. More than that, it may cause inflammatory responses, especially in the case of older people.
Specialists recommend eating fruits, vegetables, foods high in potassium and fiber, such as whole grains, nuts, low in cholesterol, to keep a healthy heart, avoid inflammation of the blood vessels and consequently CAD.
Try to be more active
Combined with a healthy diet, exercising regularly takes you one step further to maintaining your heart in good condition. It is recommended to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, be it in the form of walking, jogging or more intense activities.
According to studies, sedentary people are 60% more at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than active individuals. Therefore, try to fit exercise into your lifestyle and enjoy its endless benefits.
Sleep it off
There’s nothing better and more rejuvenating than a good sleep. Lack of or poor sleep has been found to contribute to obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and diabetes. So, don’t neglect your sleeping routine and try to achieve 6-8 hours per night for optimum health.
Keep your gut healthy
Surprisingly, the ecosystem of your gut can affect every aspect of your body, from your stomach, to your brain, and to your heart. Diversity of healthy gut bacteria is important to prevent inflammation, which is linked to obesity and heart disease. Doctors recommend eating fermented food, lots of sleep, consuming high fiber foods and keeping your weight within the healthy limits.
Taking care of your heart shouldn’t be so difficult if it’s something that can prolong and improve your life. Better to prevent than to treat. Therefore, it is important to be informed so as to start taking action in the right direction. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease or conditions that pose a threat to your heart health.