The human heart is an organ that pumps blood throughout the body via the circulatory system, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and removing the carbon dioxide and other waste. Contrary to some widely held beliefs, the heart is not located in the left side of the chest but between the lungs in the thoracic cavity. It is a hollow, fibro-muscular organ, roughly the size of large fist and is somewhat conical in shape weighing about 280 to 340 grams in men and 230 to 280 grams in women.
The heart has four chambers; two upper chambers (the atria) and two lower chambers (the ventricles). The right atrium and right ventricle make up the “right heart” while the left ventricle and left atrium make up the “left heart”. The two sides of the heart are separated by a wall of muscles called the septum.
The duty of the heart, (blood circulation) is achieved through two pathways: the pulmonary circuit and the systemic circuit.
In the pulmonary circuit, deoxygenated blood leaves the right ventricle of the heart via the pulmonary artery and travels to the lungs, then returns as oxygenated blood to the left atrium of the heart via the pulmonary vein. While n the systemic circuit, oxygenated blood leaves the body via the left ventricle to the aorta, and from there enters the arteries and capillaries where it supplies the body’s tissues with oxygen. Deoxygenated blood returns via veins to the venae cavae, re-entering the heart’s right atrium.
This super machine does not stop working, only stops at the point of death. A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.
To measure your heart rate, simply check your pulse. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. When you feel your pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by four to calculate your beats per minute.
There are however factors which can influence heart rate. These include amongst others; age, air temperature, body size, body position (standing, or lying down etc), medications, emotions, being a smoker etc.
Although there’s a wide range of normal, an unusually high or low heart rate may indicate an underlying problem. Consult your doctor if your resting heart rate is consistently above 100 beats a minute (tachycardia) or if you’re not a trained athlete and your resting heart rate is below 60 beats a minute (bradycardia) — especially if you have other signs or symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath.
Many people think of heart disease as a problem for men, yet it is a leading cause of death for women worldwide. According the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease and stroke were the top two causes of death among women overall in 2012, though the leading cause of death in girls and women ages 15-44 years was HIV/AIDS.
Tips to having a healthy heart
- Schedule a yearly checkup
Your heart is in your hands. Each year on your birthday, schedule a checkup to have your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels etc checked. Be sure to follow the healthcare professional’s recommendation including taking prescribed medications as directed.
- Eat healthy
Boost you intake of mineral potassium by eating at least five portions of fruits and veggies a day (potassium may help lower your blood pressure). The nutrients in fruit and veg – such as vitamins, minerals and fibre – may also help keep your heart healthy and lower your cholesterol. Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can also help ward off heart disease. Many fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Try to eat fish at least twice a week.
- Quit smoking
Smoking is one of the top controllable risk factors for heart disease. Smokers are almost twice likely to have a heart attack as those who have never smoked thanks to the way smoking damages arteries, reduces blood oxygen levels and raises blood pressure.
- Eat less salt
A diet high in salt can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk of developing heart disease or a stroke. The maximum adult daily intake is no more than 6g of salt (2.5g of salt is the equivalent of 1g of sodium). Aim for foods that contain less than 1.5g salt or 0.6g sodium per 100g whenever possible.
- More water, less alcohol
Too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and heart muscle damage. Take a water bottle with you wherever you go. It’ll keep you hydrated and the bottle’s weight will strengthen your arms.
- Get physical
Step, march or jog in place for at least 15 minutes a day while watching your favorite TV shows. Increase your activity by five minutes each week until you’re getting a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week.
Or you can play on top of the sheets! That’s right, having sex can be good for your heart. Sexual activity may add more than just pleasure to your life. It may also help lower your blood pressure and risk of heart disease. According to a research published in the American Journal of Cardiology, lower frequency of sexual activity is associated with higher cardiovascular disease.
- Laugh out loud.
Yes, you heard right, Laugh. Just laugh. Don’t just LOL in emails or Facebook posts. Laugh out loud in your daily life. Whether you like watching funny movies or cracking jokes with your friends, laughter may be good for your heart. Laugh even as you read this article. Recent researches suggests laughing can lower stress hormones, decrease inflammation in your arteries, and raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HLD), also known as “good cholesterol.”