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There is a real story behind every beating heart, that fabulous organ of ours
which literally is a life or death matter
by Mary Foran

The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association is reminding us that February is American Heart Month, and that is not just a bunch of hearts and flowers!

There is a real story behind every beating heart, and the website is out to get each and every one of us thinking about that fabulous organ of ours which literally is a life or death matter.

First, we need to understand the structure of the heart, which is a muscle with flexible walls that pumps out blood each time it contracts or beats. It circulates oxygen-rich blood through the lungs to reach all parts of the body, and in fact, every single cell, while removing carbon dioxide. The site describes the heart thusly:

Human circulatory system: red indicates oxygenated blood; blue, deoxygenated

“The heart is divided into four chambers or ‘rooms’ that can be compared to a duplex apartment comprised of left and right units, each separated by a partition wall–a septum. Each ‘duplex’ is subdivided into an upper chamber, the atrium, and a lower chamber, the ventricle. The right atrium sits on top of the right ventricle on the right side of the heart. The left atrium sits atop the left ventricle on the left side. The right side is responsible for pumping blood to the lungs, where blood cells pick up fresh oxygen. Oxygenated blood is then returned to the heart’s left side. From here, oxygenated blood is pumped out to the rest of the body supplying fuel that body cells need to function. The body cells remove oxygen from the blood, and the oxygen-poor blood is returned to the right atrium, where the journey began. The round trip is called the ‘circulation of blood’.”

According to the statistics, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. a year die of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death there. More than 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer heart attacks a year. Heart attacks happen when blood flowing to the heart through an artery gets blocked and is unable to reach the heart. Without this flow of blood, the heart begins to die.

Symptoms of stroke can be as follows:

Coronary heart disease

Immediate or longer-term chest discomfort, cold sweats, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. Women’s symptoms are similar to men’s, although sometimes indicators are more subtle, making it more difficult for women to know that they are suffering a heart attack.

Cardiac arrest means that the heart actually stops pumping, and is like an electrical malfunction. Blood can’t reach the brain, or the lungs or other vital organs. Within seconds, a person becomes unable to breathe and unresponsive. Death is imminent within moments without immediate treatment.

“Cardiovascular disease” refers to a broad spectrum of problems including cardiac arrest, heart attack, heart failure, defects from birth, arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is ranked number one for causing deaths in the world. An estimated 17.7 million lives were lost to this type of illness in 2015, totaling 31 % of all deaths globally.

Many deaths from heart disease are preventable by having accurate information, appropriate heart screenings and lifestyle modifications, including a proper, heart-healthy diet. Quoting Tracy Severson, dietician for the OHSU Center for Preventative Cardiology(The Oregon Health Sciences University–Knight Cardiovascular Institute) the local paper reminds us that “In order to keep your heart healthy, you must fuel your body with nutritious food, getting plenty of whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, grains, and nuts, while avoiding saturated fats, sodium, added sugar, and refined grains found in highly processed foods.”

Keep your blood pressure on the healthy side of the monitor!

Since there is so much of an overload of information available on the subject that many find confusing, the American Heart Association has developed a list of heart-healthy actions the average person can incorporate into their personal lifestyle, as follows:

1. Manage your Blood Pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys, which keeps you healthier longer. Eat well-balanced, low-salt meals, limiting alcohol, managing stress, quitting smoking and participating in regular physical activity.

2. Control your Cholesterol Levels. High cholesterol contributes to the build-up of plaque, which clogs arteries and leads to heart disease and stroke. From a dietary standpoint, the best way to lower cholesterol is to reduce saturated and trans fats to no more than five to six percent of daily calories by reducing red meat and whole-milk dairy products. Instead, choose skim milk, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, limit fried foods, and cook with healthy oils such as vegetable oil.

3. Reduce blood sugar.  Most of the food we eat turns into glucose (or blood sugar). That feeds our entire system the energy we need. Over time, however, high levels of blood sugar can damage the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. Check out this website for more info:

Get active!

4. Get Active. Motion bolsters all internal systems of the heart, circulatory and brain functions. Moving your body on a regular basis extends and improves your quality of life.

5. Eat Better.  Your body needs quality ingredients and wholesome foods for optimum functioning. Putting the wrong gas into a car tank could cause both short-term and long-term problems, and potentially ruin the engine. Fuel your body with care!

6. Lose Weight.  Carrying extra weight places an extra burden on a body’s organs, from the digestion to breathing, to circulation, etc. Optimize the burden you place on your system.

7. Stop Smoking.  Smokers, it has been absolutely proven, have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, because smoking weakens the heart and damages blood vessels by making them thicken and grow narrower. This prompts the heart to beat faster, thereby increasing blood pressure. Clots can also form. Strokes occur when clots block blood flow to the brain. Smoking slows circulation. For more information on heart health, see

Just so you can keep tabs on your numbers, use the following as your guide:
Blood Pressure should be below 120/80 mmHg
Fasting blood sugar: 100 mg/dL
Body Mass Index: 25kg/m2
Cholesterol: HDL(good),  LDL(bad)

Mediterranean diet: healthy, and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage to boot

And, FYI, it is also nice to know that a heart-healthy diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.  The recommendation? EAT A MEDITERRANEAN DIET!

(And to think we knew that all along….!)






Featured image/Tvanbr, PD
Circulatory system/Sansculotte, CC BY-SA2.5
Coronary heart disease/NIH: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, PD
Blood pressure monitor/Solaris2006, CC BY-SA3.0
Get active/F. Grifoni per conto di Laura Fortunato, CC BY2.5
Mediterranean diet (Ilatian)/G.steph.rocket, CC BY-SA4.0