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Heart health simply refers to the condition of the heart, or how well the heart functions. The heart is the most important muscle in your body because it pumps blood and oxygen to all of your organs, so taking care of it is of utmost importance.
This article discusses the burden of heart diseases, ways to check if your heart is healthy, and measures to keep it so.
Signs of an Unhealthy Heart
There can be several signs of an unhealthy heart. Some of the most obvious signs are those that may signal a heart attack, which include chest pain and pain in the arms radiating up the neck or down the shoulder and arm.
Other signs of poor heart health include:
- Shortness of breath when walking or doing activities that you used to be able to do without difficulty
- Palpitations, or the feeling that the heart is beating not normally
- High blood pressure or low blood pressure
- Fast or slow heart rate
Common Types of Heart Problems
About 15 million Americans over the age of 20 have some form of heart disease. (1) Some common heart-related problems are:
- Peripheral artery disease
- Myocardial infarction
- Coronary artery disease
- Congenital heart defect
People can also have problems with some of the structures in the heart. Aortic stenosis is a condition in which a structure called the aortic valve becomes hardened and stiff. The aortic valve helps with moving blood out of the heart and into the rest of the body.
Cause of Heart Problems
Heart problems are usually a result of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries (a type of blood vessel) due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries in the body and heart. Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of death worldwide. (2)
Other kinds of heart problems may be due to issues in the electrical activity of the heart or the conduction system. (3) This can lead to an abnormally slow heart rate (bradycardia), abnormally fast heart rate (tachycardia), and irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter).
Ways to Check Your Heart Health
Checking your heart health starts with knowing some key information. The first bit of information is “knowing your numbers,” in particular your blood pressure and your heart rate.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be a sign of heart disease and an unhealthy heart. (4) Therefore, it is important that you know what your blood pressure normally is, such that if it is elevated, appropriate treatment and management can be initiated.
Healthy Lifestyle for a Healthy Heart
A daily routine for maintaining heart health is related to nutrition, exercise, abstaining from smoking, and proper sleep. Here’s what you can do to keep your heart in the best of shape:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet, one that is a colorful mix of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and grains, is important. Think of the heart as a machine pumping blood throughout the body. For the machine to be of optimal function, it needs the right fuel or energy to do its work. (5)
- Daily exercise for at least 30 minutes helps achieve and maintain optimal heart function. (6) Those that have a history of heart problems should consult their physician before beginning an exercise program.
- People who smoke should quit smoking, and those that do not smoke should not start. Smoking has a negative impact on heart health. (7)
- The heart is constantly working, pumping blood throughout the body. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for heart disease. It is recommended that adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. (8)
Exercises That Improve Heart Health
Performing 30 minutes of continuous exercise that increases one’s heart rate at least three times a week is good. However, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise is best coupled with 3 days of performing an aerobic activity.
Routine cardiovascular exercises include walking, jogging, running, and swimming – anything that can gently and easily get your heart rate up and keep it there for about 30–45 minutes.
Foods That Are Good for Your Heart
The heart is the body’s machine-like pump that needs the right kind of fuel to function optimally. Therefore, eating a heart-healthy diet to provide the best fuel for heart performance is key.
A heart-healthy diet should ideally be nutrient dense but low in calories. Thus, you must eat a variety of foods that supply your body with essential minerals and vitamins, protein, healthy fat, and fiber and limit foods rich in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.
Eat more of fish, lean meats, nuts, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits, and cut down on processed foods, sweets, carbonated beverages, and red meats. A low-calorie, high-nutrition diet of this kind will help reduce your cholesterol level, blood pressure, and weight, ultimately leading to better heart function.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Many things can increase your risk of developing heart disease, (4) a history of smoking and a family history of heart disease being the most significant ones.
Other risk factors are not being physically active or a sedentary lifestyle and eating a high-fat diet. (9) Having other medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, can also be a risk factor for having heart disease. (4)
Heart health refers to the overall condition of the body’s machine-like pump. Having a healthy heart is crucial to living a healthy and productive life.
For optimal heart health, it is important to be aware of the signs of an unhealthy heart, eat a heart-healthy diet, perform routine exercises that benefit the heart, and get proper rest.