How to Look After Your Heart
Looking after your heart is very important to keep you fit, healthy and functioning properly. As this is something that cannot be seen, unlike extra belly fat or toned muscles, it is often overlooked and forgotten about.
Firstly, what is the heart and what does it do?
The human heart is a muscular, four chambered organ, consisting of two ventricles and two atria. It is about the size of a fist and is located behind the sternum and in front of the vertebral column (spine) in the rib cage. The muscles of the heart are mainly made up of cardiac muscles of which the contraction is involuntary. The main function of the heart is to pump and to circulate blood through the body’s network of blood vessels, which supplies nutrition and oxygen to body cells, and removes waste products from the cells. There are two cycle pumps present in humans (pulmonary and systemic), meaning the heart can be divided into two parts: the left side and the right side, each of which contains one atrium and one ventricle.
The left side of the heart deals with giving oxygenated blood.
The right side of the heart deals with de-oxygenated blood that has returned from its journey around the body.
How can I look after my heart?
A normal resting heart rate for adults is 60-100 beats a minute.
Cardiovascular disease causes, on average, a whopping 170,000 deaths a year in the UK which equates to 460 deaths a day, many of which could be prevented by simple changes to lifestyle, such as choosing a healthy diet, taking more exercise, and stopping smoking.
What to include in your diet:
Choose a diet which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables (the more colours, the better), plenty of wholemeal foods such as wholemeal or wholegrain bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta and plenty of protein sources including fish, eggs, and lean chicken. Try to do a big shop when buying food so that you always have a choice of healthy things to eat.
What to avoid in your diet:
Try to avoid foods that contain high amounts of saturated fat as this can cause fat build-up (plaque) inside the artery walls which is known as atherosclerosis (a disease which can lead to heart attacks and strokes). This plaque can then either narrow the arteries or rupture which, if the blood flow is then blocked (meaning loss of oxygen supply), can cause a heart attack. Cutting down on saturated fats is a good first step in looking after your heart.
Exercise is very important for maintaining a healthy heart. Strength training, resistance exercise and cardiovascular exercise are extremely beneficial. Cardiac muscle (heart muscle) becomes stronger when exercised regularly. This improves your heart’s ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body. As a result, more blood flows to your muscles, and oxygen levels in your blood rise. Conversely, cardiac muscle atrophies (becomes weaker) and pumps less blood with each beat when not exercised.
Increase the amount of exercise that you do or make a conscious effort to start if you are not exercising at the moment. Starting slowly is very important. Take a short walk – 10 minutes to start with and then gradually increase the time and speed. Set yourself a target of walking a certain number of steps a day. If you use public transport, try getting off a stop or two earlier and walking the rest of the way, parking far away from the supermarket door, or leaving your car at home when you can. Take the stairs instead of using lifts and escalators and try to generally stand more than you sit. It’s very easy to sit at a desk all day or spend the evening slumped in front of the tv. Make sure to move every hour or so, as this is important for strengthening muscles which helps with mobility, stability and balance.
Take a look at our resistance-based circuit and find out how just two or three 30 minute sessions a week can improve your heart health.
A study in 2019 published in MSSE (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise) showed that strength training helped to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. It found that the 13,000 people who took part in the study and who performed resistance training for less than an hour a week reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 40% to 70%.
Smoking is very bad for your heart as the chemicals damage the blood cells and the operation of the heart and blood vessels. This in turn increases the risk of atherosclerosis which we mentioned earlier.
Start moving more and it will become natural. Go to the gym three times a week and you will miss it when you can’t get there. Make exercise a part of your lifestyle because it should be a very important part! Get yourself a Fitbit to record your steps and let you know if you haven’t moved in a while. It’s a great reminder!
We can all do things to help keep our heart healthy so ditch the fatty foods and get moving. After all we only have one heart – let’s look after it so that it looks after us for many years to come!
Caroline & Hannah xx