Body: Keeping Your Heart Healthy

   The collective term for the heart and functions is "the cardiovascular system". Contained within this system is the heart which is the body’s muscular pump, responsible for transporting the body’s total volume of 5 litres of blood around the body once every minute. The heart pumps blood around two circuits of blood vessels: the main circuit circulates blood containing oxygen, vital nutrients and hormones to every cell in the body; the second circuit carries blood to the lungs where oxygen is absorbed and the waste product of carbon dioxide is removed and blood is returned to the heart.
The heart is approximately the size of a clenched fist and is a muscular organ which is constantly pumping without rest.

Positioned slightly left of centre in the chest, the heart is divided in two halves, each containing an upper chamber known as a atrium and a lower chamber, known as a ventricle. The atria collect blood from the body, whilst the ventricles pump blood out of the heart. These four chambers are joined to one or more blood vessels, the largest being the aorta which has the diameter of a garden hose. The ventricles contract pump blood out of the heart at a rate of 70 times per minute at rest.

The heart rate is regulated by electrical impulses from the sinoatrial node which is an area of nervous tissue which is located in the wall of the right atrium. Each impulse triggers a sequence of rapid contractions which form a heartbeat and causing the heart to beat at a rate of 60-100 beats per minute. Blood pressure is influenced by the rate and force of the heart’s contractions, the volume of blood pumped out and the resistance to blood flow in the vessels.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is one of the main causes for death in the United Kingdom and a leading cause of early death in men. CHD is s collective term for a range of conditions that affect the heart which includes Angina, Heart Failure and abnormal heart rhythms. Anyone with concerns regarding the heart should discuss them with their GP who can monitor their condition, under investigations or refer to a specialist.

Angina is the term which describes the pain often accompanied by heaviness, tightness and discomfort in the chest and shortness of breath, resulting from CHD. Sometimes this pain and discomfort may be experienced in the arm, neck, stomach or jaw. Factors affecting angina are exercise, stress, cold weather.

Heart Failure
Heart failure describes what happens to the heart when it is unable to carry out its normal function of pumping blood around the body. The most common cause is damage to the heart muscle particularly after a heart attack. Other contributory factors are high blood pressure, congenital abnormalities, alcohol, diseases of heart valves and muscles.

Abnormal Heart Rhythms
It is normal for the heart to beat at different rates during the day: it is slower during sleep or at rest and faster when the body is physically active during exercise or when an individual is anxious or excited. The normal rhythm of the heart is called "sinus rhythm".

Some people experience out of the ordinary pounding and fluttering of the heart which are known as palpitations. Some people also feel as if their heart misses or has extra beats. Extra beats are known as ectopic beats. Any abnormal heart rhythm is known as arrhythmia.

Risk Factors

Making lifestyle changes can reduce the risks of CHD. It is important to be aware of factors such as age, ethnicity, family history which may predispose people to heart disease.

The following are contributory risk factors are modifiable can reduce the likelihood of CHD if reduced:
    - High blood pressure
    - Physical inactivity
    - Smoking
    - Diabetes
    - Obesity
    - High cholesterol
    - Stress
    - Diet


Set out below are ways to improve heart health and reduce the risk of CHD:
- Daily exercise, stop smoking and lose weight if necessary.
- Eating more soya, almonds, seeds, oats, beans and vegetables
- The use of herbs and spices such as tumeric, ginger and garlic is beneficial to heart health in cooking.
- Avoid sugar, deep fried foods and salt. Reduce intakes of meat, cheese and other high fat foods and avoid excessive alcohol.
- Increase your intake of omega 3 fats with at least 3 servings of oily fish a week.
- Increase the level of antioxidants by eating lots of fruit, vegetables, fish and seeds.
- Increasing B vitamins in the diet have been found to lower homocysteine which is a significant risk factor in CHD.

(source: ©

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