How to Improve Heart Health for a Longer and Better Quality Life Right Now

child is playing with his father

Image by Pezibear via Pixabay

Image by Pezibear via Pixabay

You take your kids to school, drop them off, wish ’em goodbye, and tell them with a wink, “Now you kids behave! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” They smile at you and say, “Sure, dad. Whatever you say.”

You pull away from the school, checking for them in the rear-view mirror, keeping your gaze fixed on them until they disappear into school and into their lives away from home, away from you.

Now it’s time for work! The 80s station plays — “All time 80s hits all the time, only on 99.1 KQEC, The FROG!” — as the car pulls up to a stop light.

Suddenly, without warning, pain arrives in the right arm. You press hard on the brakes while your left arm clutches at your right arm, hoping that the pain will stop and you’ll be able to go back to your scheduled programming. In one last ditch effort before everything goes black, you pick up your cellphone and dial 9-1-1.

delivery truck with 112 hotline number

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The EMTs to arrive, take you to the hospital, and you undergo emergency double bypass surgery.

So maybe not every heart health issue is this dramatic, but the thing about heart health is that any issue with it is a threat to your life. It threatens your quality of life, long term health, and longevity. A heart attack is an extreme scenario, but it’s more common than you think.

For whatever stage of life, you’re in, improving heart health is something you could be thinking about right now. The advantage of thinking about it right now is that you still have time to change your lifestyle for the better. It’s really never too late.

Why Your Heart Is Important

An often used expression for describing an essential team member is to call them the “heart of the team.”

Without this important team member, the rest of the team can’t function properly. And the same goes for the literal human heart — the body cannot live and function without this vital organ pumping away 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Whether you’re at work, home, or at play, your heart plays an important role in your quality of life.

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Without the heart working away non-stop, all your organs, muscles, tissues, and cells won’t get the vital nutrients and oxygen they need to function and to keep your body healthy and happy and living your best life possible.

To put it bluntly: your heart health determines your quality of life and affects how many years you’ll get on this Earth. Improving heart health isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity.

However, most people could do a better job of keeping their heart healthy.

Heart Disease & The No.1 Cause of Death

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Heart Disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women,” and that Heart Disease is responsible for “1 in every 4 deaths” in the United States each year.

Furthermore, the CDC continues: “Every year about 735,000 Americans has a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack, and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.”

Finally, Heart Disease is indiscriminate in who it harms — Heart Disease kills equally across Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and is second only to cancer in mortality rate amongst Asians and Pacific Islanders.

circulatory system in colored

via GIPHY

It’s very likely that you know someone who has experienced a Heart Disease related health concern or know someone who has. At worst, you may have had a family member or loved one pass due to a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or just succumb because of a lifetime of fighting hypertension.

Although these numbers seem grim, there are actions you can take today to reduce any heart-related health issues and to improve overall heart health for a happy and healthy life.

In this guide, we will go over how the heart works, health issues surrounding your heart, and how to improve heart health today to squeeze the most out of life now, tomorrow, and always.

How The Heart Works

If you want to know how to improve heart health, a basic understanding of the heart, how it looks like, and how it works is necessary. Here is a quick and easy breakdown.

What Is The Heart

The heart is a muscular organ the size of a closed fist sitting in the center-left of the human chest, right in front of the lungs, and protected by the sternum (breast bone) and is above the diaphragm on the chest.

The heart pumps blood throughout the body.

It is called a pump because its primary function is to create enough pressure to transport blood throughout the body. It does this through contractions and relaxations and is most commonly experienced through feeling your heartbeat in your chest.

A common analogy for how the heart works is how to get ketchup out of a squeeze bottle.

You have to press hard enough on the squeeze bottle to get ketchup to exit the bottle and go on your plate.

via GIPHY

This is exactly how the heart works. Blood is squeezed from one part of the heart to the other using pressure through heart contractions and relaxations.

Through the circulatory system and cardiovascular system — arteries, veins, capillaries, and lungs — it is responsible for the body getting vital nutrients and taking out metabolic wastes through blood flow.

Basically, your blood carries nutrients to the body via your arteries, and it takes out waste through your veins, and the heart is the pump that drives the process.

For clarification, here is a simple breakdown about arteries and veins, the two main pathways that blood travels through.

Arteries, Veins, & Blood

Arteries carry oxygenated blood to the body.

Because it contains oxygen, this blood is referred to as ‘Red’ blood.

Veins carry oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. Once there, it is replenished by the lungs with fresh oxygen and to have its metabolic waste removed in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2) we breathe out of our lungs.

Because this blood has already been used by the body and needs to be replenished with oxygen, it is referred to as “Blue” blood.

‘Blue’ blood isn’t actually blue. It’s still red, just a darker shade of red because it lacks oxygen. It’s just an easy descriptor to distinguish it from the oxygen-rich blood flowing in the veins, which is just a more powerful red.

Easy tips to remember the difference between arteries and veins:

  1. Arteries transport blood to the body to nourish cells
  2. Veins carry blood away from the body for it to be replenished
  3. ‘Red’ blood is blood containing oxygen
  4. ‘Blue’ blood is blood lacking oxygen

The Anatomy of the Heart

The heart is made up of two sides and four chambers.

It is situated on the center-left part of your chest right in front of your lungs and nestled behind the sternum and diaphragm.

It is roughly the size of two clasped fists held together and weights approximately 8 to 10 ounces in women and 10 to 12 ounces in men.

It’s famous Valentine’s Day version comes from how it would look like if you traced the heart on a piece of paper and circled over the Aorta and Superior Vena Cava.

Composed of multiple parts, every part of the heart serves a vital function in the heartbeat process.

Superior Vena Cava

A large vein that transports ‘Blue’ blood from the upper part of the body to the Right Atrium.

Inferior Vena Cava

A large vein that transports ‘Blue’ blood from the lower part of the body to Right Atrium.

Right Atrium

The right upper chamber of the heart. It receives ‘Blue’ blood from the body through the inferior vena cava and the superior vena cava.

The Tricuspid Valve

The gateway that allows blood from the Right Atrium to flow the Right Ventricle.

Right Ventricle

The right lower chamber of the heart. It pumps the blood into the Pulmonary Artery.

Pulmonary Valve

The gateway that allows blood from the Right Ventricle to flow into the Pulmonary Artery.

Pulmonary Artery

Transports ‘Blue’ blood from the right ventricle of the heart to the lungs.

Lungs

parts of the heart

Image by balik via Pixabay

Where oxygen-poor ‘Blue’ blood has its metabolic waste removed and is replenished with oxygen to become ‘Red’ blood.

Pulmonary Vein

Transports ‘Red’ blood from the lungs to the Left Atrium of the heart.

Left Atrium

The atrium is the left upper chamber of the heart. It receives ‘Red’ blood from the lungs through the Pulmonary Vein.

The Mitral Valve

The gateway that allows blood from the Left Atrium to flow to the Left Ventricle.

Left Ventricle

The left lower chamber of the heart. It pumps the blood through the aortic valve into the aorta.

Aortic Valve

The gateway that allows blood from the Left Ventricle to go to the Aorta

Aorta

The aorta is the biggest and longest artery in the body. It transports ‘Red’ blood from the Left Ventricle to the rest of the Body.

Pericardium

via GIPHY

The pericardium is a doubled-wall sac containing the heart and all its parts.

Myocardium

The muscular tissue of the heart responsible for the contracting and relaxing.

Septum

The dividing wall between the left side and right side of the heart.

How Your Heart Pumps Blood

  1. Oxygen-poor ‘Blue’ blood returns to your heart after making its way through the body via the Superior Vena Cava and Inferior Vena Cava.
  2. The Right Atrium and Right Ventricle collect and pump the blood through the Pulmonary Arteries to the lungs.
  3. The ‘Blue” blood becomes replenished with oxygen, becoming oxygen-rich ‘Red’ blood.
  4. This ‘Red’ blood now passes to the Left Atrium and Left Ventricle, and it is pumped through the Aorta to the rest of the body to supply tissues with oxygen and nutrients.

How Do The Valves Work?

heart valves and its parts

Image by Wikicommons

The valves are a key part of the process.

They are doors that open one way only and prevent blood from backflowing where it came from.

When the valves open, blood can only flow in that direction.

part of the heart and heart monitor

via GIPHY

When they close, blood cannot go back in that direction. The blood is forced to go to the next chamber in the heart to continue the heartbeat process.

Without the valves controlling traffic inside the heart, both types of blood, ‘Red and ‘Blue,’ would not go where it’s supposed to, and the entire heartbeat process would be defunct, resulting in death.

Understanding how the valves work helps with realizing how ingenious the design of the heart is and how incredible of an organ it is.

How Long Does This Process Take?

One thing to realize is how fast this process takes — a full heart contraction takes about one second.

The average heartbeat is between 60-100 beats per minute.

Your heart pumps about 5 quarts of blood every minute.

That’s 100,000 beats per day, 35 million beats per day, and 2-3 billion beats per lifetime, according to the Mayo Clinic.

When thinking about how to improve heart health, realizing how many times per day your heart beats puts everything into perspective into how much work the heart actually does, and how we have to take care of it if we want to keep it pumping.

What Powers The Pump?

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Okay, so now that we know how the heart pumps blood throughout the body, we can learn what powers the pump to carry out that process.

The heart has an electrical system that originates and transmits cardiac impulses that cause the heart to beat.

The alternating contractions and relaxations of the myocardium are what produce heartbeats.

The system is made up of nodes and conducting fibers. This electrical system that causes the contraction is commonly referred to as “The Pacemaker.”

What Is Blood Pressure?

heart monitor

Image by geralt via Pixabay

Blood Pressure is the pressure put against the arterial walls during heart contractions and relaxations. It is composed of two types of pressure, Systole, and Diastole.

Systolic Blood Pressure is the peak pressure produced by the contracting ventricles.

Diastolic Blood Pressure is the pressure in your arteries when the ventricles are relaxed.

If you have ever gone to your local drug store and used the provided free blood pressure measuring cuff, you would see a readout delivered in two numbers resembling a fraction. The number on top is your Systolic Blood Pressure, and the number on the bottom is your Diastolic Blood Pressure.

Normal Blood Pressure, or what is considered healthy, is 120/80.

When people in the medical community refer to High Blood Pressure, they are referring to the number on top, Systolic Blood Pressure, being higher than 140, and the number on the bottom, Diastolic Blood Pressure, being higher than 90.

The reason High Blood Pressure is such a serious health concern is that it can cause damage to the walls inside your arteries, damage circulation, and cause long term injury to your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other parts of your body and health.

Knowing your Blood Pressure is a key component in improving your heart health in both the short term and the long term.

Health Issues With Your Heart

man having a heart attack

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Why Is It Important To Have A Healthy Heart?

Don’t forget that Heart Disease is the leading cause of death every year. Doing everything you can right now to improve your heart health through lifestyle changes, attitude changes, and consulting with your doctor.

These are the risk factors associated with Heart Disease.

  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of Exercise
  • Poor Diet

What Are Some Common Heart Problems?

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Heart Disease

Can take many shapes and forms. Basically, any form of Heart Disease makes it hard for the heart to do its job — pump blood to the body and make sure that organs, tissues, and class get the oxygen and nutrients they need to function.

Coronary Heart Disease

When the coronary arteries (the heart’s blood vessels and how itself is nourished) becomes nourished or blocked and cannot supply enough blood to the heart.

Angina

Pain or discomfort in your chest, arm, neck, stomach. This happens because the blood supply to your heart becomes restricted because of your arteries becoming narrow. One doesn’t know they have angina until they do partake in physical activity and notice that they are fatigued or short of breath soon after beginning the activity; this is when the angina sets in and becomes noticeable.

Unstable Angina

Undiagnosed chest pain or sudden comings of existing angina. Occurs more frequently than regular angina; they may even happen at rest or while you sleep. They can last up to 10 minutes. If severe, seek medical help immediately.

Heart Attack

A myocardial infarction: when the blood supply to part of your heart muscle becomes completely blocked. Heart Attacks are most commonly caused by a piece of fatty material breaking off and causing a blockage within the blood flow inside the coronary artery.

Heart Failure

When the heart’s pumping action cannot work effectively, your heart cannot meet your body’s demand for blood and oxygen.

Arrhythmia

cardiac pacemaker

Image by ulleo via Pixabay

An abnormal heart rhythm caused by your body’s pacemaker being interrupted or disturbed, resulting in an erratic heartbeat.

Valve Disease

Problems with the valves that put an extra workload on your heart and result in shortness of breath, swollen ankles, chest pain, dizziness.

High Blood Pressure

(Also known as Hypertension) is any number above 140/90. Having it increases your risk of clogged arteries, strokes, and Heart Attacks.

Congenital Heart Conditions

man holding a baby on his arm

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Occur when there is an abnormality or defect with the structure of the heart in a developing fetus while inside the mother’s womb. The severity of the condition varies depending on defect.

Inherited Heart Conditions

These are heart conditions that can be passed through families. They can affect people of any age and can be life-threatening. The first sign there is a problem is after when someone dies suddenly with no obvious cause.

For whichever of these conditions contact your health care provider for further information and treatment options.

How To Talk To Your Doctor About Your Heart Health

blue and silver stetoscope

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Talking to your doctor about your heart’s health is a top priority, especially if you are experiencing any of the conditions or symptoms associated with Heart Disease.

However, approaching your doctor can be a bit embarrassing or awkward.

For men, it may be hard to swallow their pride and admit they are experiencing a problem; they don’t know how to solve and are in need of help.

For women, they may not want to come off as being needy or being a bother, so they’ll keep their concerns to themselves instead of asking for the help they need.

It’s also possible that a doctor has an awkward bedside manner, making communication even harder.

Whether golfing buddies with your doctor, or just on handshake terms, knowing how to communicate with your doctor about your medical concern is key to heart health.

5 Easy Ways to Talk To Your Doctor

We all know it’s tough to talk to your doctor sometimes. You might get nervous and forget what to say or you might just be afraid of the answers you may get.

Don’t be. Ignorance is not bliss.

Instead, write down the things that are on your mind and keep these five things in mind:

1. Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be direct about what’s on your mind. Be diplomatic. Express your genuine concerns without being demanding.

2. Rephrase Questions for Clarity

If you feel like your doctor is not giving you the answers you want, you may want to try rephrasing your questions to get your doctor think about the question differently.

Hopefully, this will open up how they see the problem and give you the answer you’re seeking.

3. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Assertive

There is an inherent power dynamic between a doctor and patient that makes it hard to challenge the doctor’s authority.

However, when it comes to your health, you are the authority. Be respectful, but speak up for yourself.

4. Use The Power of Email

Sometimes questions arise after an appointment, so don’t be afraid to send an email to your physician with follow up questions.

In fact, the advantage of email is that you can be more deliberate in what you say and take your time communicating how you exactly feel.

5. Find The Right Doctor

Sometimes a patient and a physician never develop a good rapport.

A good rapport — the social dynamic between the doctor and patient — allows the patient to be vulnerable enough with the physician to ask hard questions and to express how they are truly feeling.

If this is the case, of a poor rapport, maybe it’s time to find a new doctor and get a second opinion.

How To Improve Heart Health

You have options when it comes to your heart health. Do everything you can to protect the heart you have.

After all, they don’t hand them out at the corner drug store. This is the only one you’ve got.

Take control and check out these seven things you can do for your heart:

7 Ways To Boost Heart Health

Although a lot this stuff may sound grim, there is real action you can take today to improve your heart health.

The following easy to follow tips will help you improve your heart health and reducing your risk of Heart Disease and Heart Disease Related Conditions.

1. Don’t Smoke

no smoking area

Image by Tim Savage via Pixabay

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “The chemicals in tobacco harm your blood cells. They can also damage the function of your heart and increase your risk for arteriosclerosis and peripheral artery disease.”

2. Manage Your Cholesterol

High Blood Cholesterol is a risk factor for Heart Disease.

Although cholesterol is produced by the body, there are two types of cholesterol: LDL Cholesterol, commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, and HDL Cholesterol, commonly referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol.

Too much of the bad one can damage your arteries, so be aware of it and go get checked today.

3. Monitor Your Blood Pressure

black and white blood pressure kit

Image by Pixabay via Pexels

High Blood Pressure has been called the silent killer because it’s hard to feel physically.

High Blood Pressure can strike suddenly in the form of heart attack or stroke. Get checked today to make sure you’re in a healthy range.

Talk to your physician about treatment options, including diet, exercise, and medication.

4. Manage Diabetes

According to the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, “Having diabetes means you are more likely to develop heart disease, and have a greater chance of a heart attack or stroke.”

Also, people with diabetes are more vulnerable to certain conditions (or risk factors) that increase the risk of having heart disease or heart disease-related conditions like stoke, High Blood Pressure, or High Cholesterol.

5. Be Physically Active

young woman walking on the side of the road

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Exercise strengthens your heart muscle.

It improves the heart’s ability to pump blood to your body and lungs. Consequently, more blood flows to your muscles and your body is able to take in increased levels of oxygen.

Not only that, exercise reduces your risk of Coronary Heart Disease and has a positive effect in other health areas of your life such as energy, mood, and cognitive functions.

6. Have A Healthy Weight

group of people doing a dance exercise in the gym

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Losing weight and living at a healthy weight is key to improving heart health.

A larger body means the heart has to work even harder to transport blood throughout the entire body.

Excess weight or obesity puts you at risk for Heart Disease, heart attacks, strokes, and more. A scheduled exercise regimen along with changes in diet and attitude can help you get control of your weight and reduce your risk for Heart Disease.

7. Have A Healthy Diet

healthy salad with fruits and berries

Image by silviarita via Pixabay

Along with physical activity and losing weight, changing your diet is also a key tool in improving heart health.

Instead of eating high-fat food low in nutrition, try to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Try to reduce your sugar intake by cutting out sodas and sugary beverages. Don’t replace them with diet options either. Instead, drink more water and start drinking green tea, which has numerous proven health benefits.

You Now Have The Power To Improve Your Heart Health

woman raising her arm as the sunset

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Improving heart health can seem like an intimidating task, given how many lifestyle changes must be made to achieve your best heart health possible.

However, the alternative should not be an option: poor heart health, increased risk for Heart Disease, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, any of which could prove fatal under the right circumstances.

Improving heart health is a literal question of life or death, and the choices we make now will affect us tomorrow and forever after.

Luckily, there are enough things we can through lifestyle changes to get that happy and healthy heart that allows us to squeeze the most out of life.

Improving heart health is not a punishment; it’s an opportunity to transform your mind, body, and spirit to extract the most out of this life and to make your time on Earth matter. And it all begins with making the heart stronger. You can do this. Good luck!

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