With all the heart-shaped chocolate boxes at the local drugstore and Valentine’s Day excitement in the air, it can be easy for American Heart Month to be overshadowed. February is a time to give your heart a little bit of attention— it’s the organ that makes all other everyday functions possible, after all.
How does it work?
If you can’t remember from your middle school health education, the Heart Foundation has a simple overview of the heart’s daily routines.
The heart contains special fibres which conduct electrical signals to tell the heart to pump blood. The right side of your heart pumps the blood to the lungs, where it receives oxygen. Blood enters the left side of the heart from the lungs and the heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood around the body.
Of course, the heart is more complicated than that.
What could go wrong?
Since your heart is the powerhouse of your whole body, any minor offset to the organ can be detrimental to your health if you’re not paying attention. Coronary heart disease might feel like a problem that’s so far away, since it often affects older populations. However, heart problems can affect anyone. Take Ray Schoonmaker, a student at Drexel University.
“A few months ago, I was in the hospital with left fascicular ventricular tachycardia. It was acute, so it comes out of nowhere,” says Schoonmaker.
Schoonmaker described experiencing symptoms of a racing heart and a bit of dizziness. “At the time, I was working at an internship with a nurse’s office in the building,” says Schoonmaker. “The nurse took my heart rate and it was 140 beats per minute, which is double the average resting heart rate. Then, I went to the hospital.”
Eventually, with this particular heart problem, a cardiac ablation—the destruction of the tissue in the heart, which causes this arrhythmia—is required. Left fascicular ventricular tachycardia and other arrhythmias, often arise with no family history of heart problems. It’s also pretty rare.
However, heart disease is not so rare. Coronary heart disease happens when arteries get smaller and narrower as plaque builds up. The first sign of Coronary heart disease is chest pain because of the lack of oxygen in the blood. If too much plaque builds up in the arteries, it can cause a blockage of blood flow, also known as a heart attack.
For Schoonmaker—a non-smoking, active individual—the risk of having heart trouble appears fairly low, but the type of heart arrhythmia he experienced is most common in young males. Actually, lots of habits can affect heart function. Here are the best ways to keep a healthy heart.
The Heart Foundation emphasizes that the most important action for your heart health is to quit smoking: “Smoking affects the vessels that supply blood to your heart and other parts of your body. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages blood vessel walls.”
Cholesterol can be broken down into low-density lipoproteins (LDL-C) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL-C). HDL-C is often referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ because it helps to prevent LDL-C, or ‘bad cholesterol’ from building up in the arteries.
If you’re looking to lower your cholesterol or take in ‘good cholesterol,’ think eggs, fish and plant-based protein. Stay away from an excessive amount of fried and fatty foods.
As always, exercise is a great way to keep a healthy heart. It might seem like a lot at first, but aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week, which breaks down to 30 minutes five days per week. That factors in two days of rest!
Always listen to your body and talk to your doctor about your risks of heart problems for the future.
Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year English major with minors in creative writing and journalism. KM867219@wcupa.edu