Now that I have your attention with this month’s seemingly callous title, let’s dig into the reality of heart related health. Our bodies’ functions are all affected by how we choose to live. The very basics of health related choices, like exercise and proper diet, make a difference. The actual function of the heart, specifically, is especially affected. Special conditions aside, your heart will only operate as well as it’s able. It doesn’t really care how you treat it, but you will care about its function if it’s not treated right.
We’ve all heard the old adage before……”The heart is the most important muscle in the body.” Although there is a lot more to it than a simple contraction of the muscle tissue, this saying is true. If the heart isn’t functioning to deliver the goods to other organs via blood flow, those organs suffer. Again, the heart really doesn’t care how you treat it, but those other organs sure do.
Just like any functioning body, there is a central or lead entity from which all other functions are either able or unable to do their jobs effectively. A body of water like a river flows in one direction. The entire body is motivated to continue pushing. But what is motivating it? What is affecting its flow? The heart of all rivers is the source from which it originates. Without that source, the river is unable to flow, affecting its broad ecosystem downstream. Without the source, or if the source is mistreated, the river cannot continue its flow. Another example is a body of people. Whether in a workplace or other organization with a common goal, the heart is its leader. Without effective leadership, the body of people begin to separate and individuals begin working independently to the point of losing sight of the goal or vision. The heart in both of these examples really doesn’t care how it’s treated, but the effect transcends well beyond its own function/performance.
Outside forces affect the heart’s function both positively and negatively. How we live makes a huge difference in heart health. With fitness being the primary theme, here are two positive ways you can affect the heart by adding exercise to your life.
- Lower Resting Heart Rate: As you make aerobic exercise part of your routine, you are training the heart to be more efficient. Consistent aerobic exercise, over time, can improve stroke volume. Stroke volume is the amount of blood your heart pumps out with each beat. Your heart adapts to aerobic exercise by enlarging the source (left ventricle cavity) from which the blood is pumped. This allows it to hold more blood reducing the frequency of beats needed to deliver the oxygen and other nutrients the rest of your body needs. Fewer beats equal less stress on the heart muscle.
- Improve Strength of Ventricular Contraction: As alluded to earlier, there is more to heart function than a simple contraction. However, an improved, more forceful contraction will increase the amount of blood exerted from the heart with each beat. Normal heart function includes something called end-systolic volume. This is the amount of blood left behind in the ventricle after the contraction/beat. If the amount of blood left behind is reduced, that means better stroke volume. As stated above, better stroke volume means less stress on the heart. Aerobic exercise is generally considered the best for the heart, but the heart can improve function through strength training, too. The strength training mechanism to strengthen the heart muscle is blood pressure. When strength training, blood pressure increases during the session. The heart (left ventricle) must work against that pressure to disperse blood into the arteries. This work trains the heart muscle to become stronger.
Two basic examples of exercise and its effect on heart function have been discussed. There is much more to the story of how a healthy lifestyle improves heart function. The main thing to remember is that your heart will only function as well as you want it to. If you care for it, then it will care for you.