What makes you tick?
The heart is an organ of unparalleled importance in the human body, an essential driver of our circulatory system.
What makes you tick?
The heart is an organ of unparalleled importance in the human body, an essential driver of our circulatory system. Through its action as a pump, it sends litres of blood surging through our arteries, capillaries and eventually the veins. The heart also generates strong emotions, referenced in many songs and stories throughout history. Many a ballad has been written, with the singer saying endearing words, often wanting to give their heart to their beloved!
In history, the famous physicians Galen and Aristotle understood the importance of the heart but mistook its function. Aristotle believed the heart controlled the other organs and was a source of power. Galen believed it was the source of innate heat. Over time, people discovered the anatomy of the heart (its structure) but its true function remained elusive for many centuries. (Ref: The History of the Heart – https://web.stanford.edu)
We now know the function of the heart as the central conductor of an orchestra, being our circulatory system (arteries and veins) and a key player in determining our level of cardiovascular fitness. To maintain this fitness, our heart must be structurally sound and of the correct size. Our heart is a large muscular organ and the medical literature often refers to it as being the size of a person’s fist. Ironically, the data does not support this with a recent study stating that use of fist-size for estimation of heart size as meaningless (Ref: Ampanozi Cardiovascular Pathology 36 (2018) 1-5).
If our heart has a ‘hole’ in the middle or other anatomical changes, we cannot function at our best. If our heart is weak and doesn’t pump hard enough (heart failure) we can develop a large but poorly contracting heart, causing fluid retention and slowly die. If our heart becomes scarred from heart attacks (blockages of the arteries supplying the heart muscles) we can lose the function of different parts of the heart leading to problems with electrical conduction of the heart tissue or heart failure. Repeated damage to the heart from toxins (alcohol), chronic disease (hypertension, high cholesterol) or other causes can lead to a big but dysfunctional heart (cardiomegaly).
On top of all this, our heart has the task of maintaining a steady rhythm, beating in the range of 60-80 beats per minute. This is roughly 100 000 beats per day or, close to 3 billion beats in an average 80 years lifetime!
How can we help our heart keep ticking? How can we keep it the right size and enable it to perform its vital function without problems? The key is a healthy lifestyle. A well-balanced diet, rich in cardiac friendly food in conjunction with regular physical activity will put you in the right direction. Targeting unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake is a good start. Often, it can all be too confusing for people and many don’t know where to start. Having a health assessment with your general practitioner can be an effective way of knowing your baseline, where you’re at. From this, they can work together with you and put together a plan to keeping your heart healthy.
Look after your heart, you only have one!
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