Your heart, which started as a tiny spec when you were just a fertilized embryo, beat months before you were even born. This heartbeat was the very first sign that you were alive and since then this same heartbeat has become the governor of your life.
Your heart beats snuggly in a well-designed safe space within your rib cage, between your lungs. The average adult heart is the size of 2 fists clasped together. Hollow, and vaguely cone-shaped, it weighs about 250-350 grams, a pretty modest size considering it is your body’s greatest workhorse. Powering the entire circulatory system, it transports nutrients, oxygen, waste, heat, hormones and immune cells throughout the body over and over. Lub Dub, Lub Dub.
Night and day, it beats consistently. 100 000 beats per day, 35 million beats per year, 2-3 billion beats in a lifetime. Your loyal friend.
To put it simply, your heart is just a pump, and its main concern is to maintain the pressure gradient in the circulatory system. It does this by generating high hydrostatic pressure to pump blood out of your heart, while also creating low pressure to bring blood back into your heart. This pressure gradient is essentially what we mean when we talk about blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measure of the amount of strain your arteries feel as your heart moves your 5 litres of blood around your body. For blood pressure to be considered normal, the systolic pressure (the peak pressure on the contracting ventricles) should be less than 140mmHg. Conversely, diastolic pressure (the pressure in your arteries when the ventricles are relaxed) should be less than 90mmHg.
The easiest way to break a heart is to mess with its pressure. 1 in 2 South Africans suffer from hypertension and these figures are on the rise. Not a very nice way to treat your loyal friend, is it? Often there are no symptoms until it’s too late, so it’s best to keep your finger on the pulse, and check your blood pressure regularly.
How Your Heart Does Its Job
Your heart, and its vessels, is a relatively simple yet elegant set-up that requires precise coordination to create the high and low pressures required to pump blood around the body. Your heart gets this right by using its own anatomical pacemaker, and some heart cells can generate their own electricity, which controls signal and communication throughout your heart so that each section works together in unison.
Your heart receives deoxygenated blood through the vena cava vein, where it spends a second in the right atrium before dropping into the right ventricle. From there it is sent quickly to the lungs where your blood it packed full of oxygen and then returns to your heart into the left atrium before sliding down to the left ventricle where it will build up pressure again. Blood then leaves your heart from the left ventricle through the aorta, the biggest and toughest artery in your body roughly the diameter of a garden hose. From your heart, your oxygenated blood travels through your circulatory system in order to feed every single solitary cell in your body with the nutrients you need to stay alive. It takes about a minute for all the blood in your body to complete that circuit which means even if you are at rest your hardworking circulatory system moves about 7500L of blood through your heart every day.
Blood vessels are sometimes described as ‘a glorified plumbing system of the body’, but they are not just passive tubes, made merely to carry liquid around. Blood vessels are actually dynamic organs capable of contracting and expanding as they deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells, carry away waste products and maintain blood pressure. If all your blood vessels were strung together in a single line they would measure 100 000km! Keeping these blood vessels healthy, unclogged, supple and functioning well can be achieved by having good quality blood pumping through them as opposed to blood dripping with bad cholesterol.
It is safe to say that your heart is probably the most iconic muscle in the body. However, as with all muscles your heart, as well as your entire cardiovascular system, needs exercise to maintain its form and function. Cardiovascular exercise is really just any physical activity that raises your heart rate sufficiently and is an essential component to any exercise program. Cardiovascular exercise greatly reduces the risks of cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, risk of heart attack and stroke. We hope you are getting enough of it.
Stop for a moment, put your finger on your pulse and ask yourself; how much love do you give your very own heart? The workhorses of your body, the most iconic muscle that you own, and the governor of your life. Lub Dub, Lub Dub…