The heart is the muscle that serves as the engine for the rest of the body.

Dr. Donald Nardone, of the Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC in North Central Pennsylvania, said, “The heart is a part of the circulatory system, which carries blood and therefore oxygen to the other parts of the body.

“It is the most important organ in the system as it is responsible for pumping the blood out into the blood vessels which take it where it needs to go.”

Saquib Siddiqi, MS, DO, a cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Center of Evangelical, said that the pumping of the heart is the reason human bodies can do what they do. “Your heart is the reason your body goes,” he said. “If it’s not working right, neither is the rest of your body.”

On a day-to-day basis, the heart accomplishes a lot, and is able to automatically adjust when the body is under a variety of conditions, he said.

“The heart beats 100,000 times a day and is constantly pumping blood through the rest of the body. Every main organ requires a good amount of blood flow, and your heart supplies that appropriately,” Siddiqui said. “We don’t think about it as much, but the heart is also a receptor. It recognizes if you are under stress and beats a little faster. If you are sleeping, it recognizes that it can slow down.”

To successfully perform its job within the circulatory system, the heart needs a lot of energy, Dr. George Ruiz, chair of the Department of Cardiology at Geisinger, said. “The heart pumps about five liters of blood which is pretty amazing. To do this, it needs energy which it gets through the blood that flows to it from the coronary arteries,” he said. “These arteries are a network of blood vessels that deliver the blood to the heart muscle. The arteries are like the size of spaghetti.”

Health risks to the heart

Many health risks that negatively impact the heart can be treated or avoided and that is important to prevent damage. “Many risks are things that you know and hear about like high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes amongst others,” Ruiz said. “These things lead to an injury in the thin blood vessels which can lead to the heart not getting enough blood flow. When this happens suddenly, it’s a heart attack.”

To be proactive in keeping the heart healthy, Dr. Nardone said it is essential to treat health conditions that may be risks. “The first thing to do is to treat chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and more. These things, untreated, can lead to heart disease,” he said. “Generally, try to keep blood pressure close to normal. If you’re diabetic, try to keep your A1C at a healthy level. Get regular checkups so that if you have problems, they can be detected and treated early.”

Hereditary heart health

Maintaining an awareness of your hereditary health can be an important aspect of preventing heart disease. “It is important to understand your family history. Understand and connect with what goes through your family,” Ruiz said.

Siddiqui said that regular visits with a physician can be key for early detection in these cases. “If you have a family history of heart disease at an early age, maybe you should look into it,” he said. “If you are regularly meeting with your family doctors, they should be checking blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”

There are also simple things that everyone can do daily that will positively impact or minimize risk to their heart health. “Don’t smoke, it is not good for you. Smoking accelerates the damage to the blood vessels throughout the body,” Ruiz said. “Do exercise and try to stay active as the heart is a muscle and it needs to be worked. Do aerobic exercise, 30 minutes every day if you can. It helps stretch the heart and helps it move, keeping the circulation going.”

Siddiqui said consuming a balanced diet is also important. “Eat a balanced diet. Try to have some level of vegetables, cut down on some red meats, decrease salt, have more olive oils instead of vegetable oils,” he said.

Managing stress is good not only for the heart, but for the mind as well, Ruiz said. “Find ways to decrease stress in your life. Chronic stress can bombard the heart,” he said. “Find things that you love and do them! Laughing, spending time with those you love, these things are good not only for your heart, but also your soul.”

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