Heart to Heart!
February 1, 2023

by Liz Reid

This month Liz Reid explains how important it is to keep your heart happy!

Your heart is such an incredible pump and important, as we only have one, so you need to love it! It is the first organ to develop, crucial in providing oxygen and nutrients to the developing  foetus. A British Heart Foundation funded team at Oxford University, found that the human heart starts contracting as early as 16 days after conception. It takes 17-20 weeks for all four chambers of the heart to develop and be detected on an ultrasound, which is why the second scan of a foetus is around the 20 week stage. 

The heart continues to develop and beats constantly, with no rest until the end of life. Our lives depend on the proper functioning of this amazing organ, which is so easy to take for granted. It has a huge job to do. The left atrium receives highly oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps to the left ventricle, which then pumps to the rest of the body. The low oxygenated blood is pumped by the right ventricle back to the lungs to be saturated by oxygen and the cycle repeats… in a heartbeat. 

With the heart being such a critical organ, we need to ensure that we look after it and its health the best we can. 

There is lots you can do to help minimise the risk of heart damage. Eating too much salt is all too easy to do but can cause high blood pressure as the body deals with the excess salt. Adults should not eat more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) which equates to just 1 TEASPOON; for children, it is far less. There are foods which are naturally HIGH in salt, which include salty fish, processed meats such as bacon, sausage and ham, cheese, olives, pickles, salted or dry roasted nuts, stock cubes, soy sauce and even tomatoes, which are high in potassium. Snack foods of course tend to contain a lot of salt, like crisps, ready meals, breakfast cereal, pizza and shop bought sandwiches. The more home made food you can make yourself from scratch, the better, as you can manage what goes in! 

Keeping an eye on your blood pressure is a good thing to do. Blood pressure monitors can be purchased from most pharmacies at a reasonable cost. In an adult, the ideal range is from 90-120/60-80 if you’re an adult under the age of 80. The first number is the SYSTOLIC and is the highest level your blood reaches when your heart beats. The second number is the DIASTOLIC and is the lowest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart relaxes between beats. If you have any concerns and want your blood pressure checked, make a GP appointment. 

Ways to help lower your blood pressure include reducing your salt intake and the consumption of saturated fats. Calories not used as energy are stored by the body as fat so carrying significant excess weight and having high cholesterol, which builds up plaque in the arteries, can put extra strain on the heart, causing the heart to work harder with a greater risk of heart damage, stroke or heart attack. 

So, choosing a lifestyle which includes eating less meat and processed foods, eating more and varied vegetables, reducing alcohol consumption, not smoking and staying active, all dramatically help in keeping your heart healthy. By following a healthier lifestyle, you give yourself the best change in longevity whilst enjoying a healthy life. Building in a daily walk or a weekly gentle swim, will become part of your normal routine and then you won’t even think of it as exercise. 

Minimising stress is a big factor too in keeping your heart healthy and happy, so also consider mediating. You don’t even have to listen to an App; just take 5-10 minutes each day for a quiet time, where you are away from distractions (so put the phone away and on silent)! It will be so helpful in keeping you calm and include mindful exercise as well as cardio, such as Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates, which help to balance the body and mind, as well as build strength, flexibility and provide relaxation.

So, love your heart and love your life!