Heart : How to Have A Healthy Heart

It’s a lovely sentiment to give heart-shaped valentines and candies to friends and loved ones through the first half of February. Hearts are indeed an appropriate symbol for the month that celebrates Heart Health. With heart disease the leading cause of death and disability among North Americans, there is no better month to learn how to prevent cardiovascular illness.

The heart is a powerful muscle, about the size of your fist. It is responsible for pumping blood to the entire body. In a healthy adult, the body contains about 2 gallons (5 liters) of blood that is circulated over and over through the body.

The blood moves from the heart, into arteries, capillaries, and veins before returning to the heart. The entire cycle takes about 60 seconds, during which time the blood carries oxygen and nutrients to all the cells in the body.

Get Moving
To keep this muscle hardy and strong, it needs to be stimulated, just like other muscles in our bodies do. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and most adults are not physically active enough to gain any health benefits.

Swimming, cycling, jogging, skiing, aerobic dancing, walking or many other activities can help your heart. Whether it's included in a structured exercise program or part of your daily routine, all physical activity adds up to a healthier heart.

According to the latest joint American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine guidelines on physical activity, all healthy adults ages 18-65 should be getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five days of the week. However, there are additional guidelines for those 65 and older, or for those 50-64 with chronic conditions or physical functional limitations (e.g., arthritis) that affect movement ability or physical fitness.

An Ounce of Prevention
Know your blood pressure. Your heart moves blood through your body. If it is hard for your heart to do this, your heart works harder, and your blood pressure will rise. People with high blood pressure often have no symptoms, so have your blood pressure checked every 1 to 2 years. If you have high blood pressure , your doctor may suggest you make some lifestyle changes, such as eating less and exercising more. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help lower your blood pressure.

Stop Those Nasty Habits
Since the human heart's job is to pump nutrient-rich blood throughout your body, if you smoke, take drugs, or drink alcohol excessively, you are giving your heart extra work. Your heart cannot handle too much extra work over a long period of time. Over time, the health of your heart will suffer.

Scientists have proven that smoking doubles your risk of having a heart attack and can even quadruple your risk of sudden cardiac death. Each year, over 300,000 Americans die of smoking-related heart disease. So, don't smoke. If you do, quit. The sooner you quit, the sooner your risk will start to decline. There is hope for former smokers - you can completely lower their risk of sudden cardiac death within ten years of quitting.

Any drug can affect your heart, even prescribed medications can. However, since prescribed medications are legal, doctors are able to control the effect a drug will have on your heart by controlling the dosage. With illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, marijuana and amphetamines, you control the effect on your heart. Even a small amount of a drug can be potentially fatal. So, for a healthy heart, don't use illegal drugs. If you do, stop.

While drinking alcohol in moderation may not pose a risk, drinking excessively does pose a serious hazard to your heart. When alcohol flows through your blood stream, the nutrient-rich blood is less able to nourish the heart. If the alcohol content is excessive, your heart will be in danger. So, for a healthy heart, don't drink alcohol excessively. If you do, stop.

Warning Signs
Often heart disease has no symptoms but there are sometimes warning signs when a heart attack is pending. Many heart attacks cause completely different sensations. The signs listed here are common, but by no means are they the only possible indications of a heart attack is in progress.

Here are some of the common symptoms:
  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back again.
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, or arms. The arm may be tingling or numb.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Cold sweats, shortness of breath and lightheadedness
  • Feeling of indigestion
  • Dizziness, weakness, and fainting
  • Abdominal pain
Very few pre-menopausal women have heart attacks, unless they smoke, have diabetes, or are on birth control pills for a long period of time. Some additional warning signs for women include:
  • Breathlessness with exertion or especially if it wakes you up at night
  • Chest discomfort that starts behind the breast bone and radiates to either shoulder or arm, neck, or to the lower (but not upper) jaw
  • Discomfort in the lower jaw especially if it occurs only with exertion or will not go away

Are You At Risk?
Who is most at risk with these symptoms? The more of these factors that apply to you, the greater your risk:
  • Menstruation has stopped
  • Smoking
  • Family history of arteriosclerotic heart disease before age 60
  • High blood pressure (even treated)
  • Diabetes (even mild, even treated)
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol (even treated)

What to Do in a Heart Emergency

If you believe you are experiencing a heart attack or stroke, call 911 or contact your emergency response system immediately. If you are with someone who is experiencing these symptoms and cannot reach 911, drive them to the hospital immediately. If you are experiencing the symptoms yourself, have someone else drive you.

Expect a "denial." It's normal for someone with chest pain to deny that it could be a heart attack. Don't take "no" for an answer. Insist on taking prompt action. Give CPR if it's necessary and you are properly trained.

Cross Your Heart
Remember when you were a little kid and cemented a promise by crossing your heart? You can update that childhood fun by making a pledge to take good care of your heart health. And that’s a very loving Valentine you can give to yourself.
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