It’s American heart month: keep your heart ticking

February is American Heart Month, and a great time to recognize and celebrate the importance of your heart: a fist-sized, one-pound muscle that steadily and rhythmically beats at the rate of about 60 to 100 beats per minute or 35 million times per year. It is a never-resting muscle machine that pumps approximately 5 to 6.5 quarts of blood per minute and during strenuous exercise the heart can increase the amount of blood it pumps up to four times within only a matter of seconds. Truly an amazing feat! During an average lifetime, the amount of blood that your heart pumps could fill three supertankers!
A strong and healthy heart is vital to longevity. Think of the valves on your car. If they get clogged with dirt and oil, your vehicle doesn’t run as efficiently and your gas mileage decreases. The same goes for your “ticker.” And keeping a well-tuned heart requires work and dedication to a healthy lifestyle. The more efficiently your heart pumps oxygenated blood from your lungs and nutrients out to your body, the better you will feel and function.
There are many ways to get — and keep — your heart in tip-top condition, and one of the most important is to consume a heart-healthy diet and nutritional regimen that’s low in fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. This should be your personal gold standard. Some easy ways to retain taste and cut fat and cholesterol are to use 1 percent or skim milk in place of 2 percent or whole milk. Substitute one whole egg in a recipe with two healthier egg whites. You can also use plain, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese or low-fat sour cream in place of full-fat sour cream and mayonnaise.
Other healthy lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking, building a regular exercise program into your busy schedule, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight are equally as important to a healthy heart.
Despite the best laid plans, things can go awry. And if you have a family history of heart disease, you should pay even closer attention to symptoms like chest discomfort, pain in the arm(s), back, neck, jaw, or stomach discomfort/indigestion. It is also crucial to judge whether your symptoms are out of proportion to the amount of energy you are exerting. For example, if you are speed walking you will breathe harder than when at rest and your pulse will elevate. This would be considered a normal, proportionate exertion. But if you are at rest and exhibit any of the symptoms listed above, you should pay close attention to them and seek medical attention if they persist or get worse. Symptoms for men and women also can vary dramatically, so it is crucial that you understand what can occur and react quickly by seeking medical attention and getting to your nearest hospital.
Swift treatment for a heart attack can literally save and preserve quality of life, and every minute that passes is an opportunity for more and more heart muscle loss. Time is muscle when it comes to a heart attack.
Treatment of heart ailments can include a combination of drug therapy, catheter-based treatments and coronary bypass surgery. “Clot-busting” drugs are administered during a heart attack to dissolve blood clots that may have formed in the arteries, restoring blood flow to the heart. In catheter-based procedures, angioplasty and stenting is the most well known procedure, where a catheter is threaded from the groin into the arteries, and a balloon is used to widen an artery. Tiny mesh wire tubes, called stents, are placed to hold arteries open that may have just been unblocked. Open heart surgery is required in cases of severe blockages or when someone is unresponsive to medications or not a candidate for angioplasty/stenting. Coronary bypass surgery involves taking a blood vessel from the leg or chest and grafting it onto the blocked artery to bypass the blockage.
Take care of your heart with the best, most readily available medicine: a balanced diet, regular exercise and living by the motto: “Everything in moderation.” Know your body — and listen to it when it gives you signals of ill health. Have routine check-ups by a physician and seek medical attention when things just don’t seem right.


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