- Written by Dr. Stephanie Shelburne Dr. Stephanie Shelburne
Your heart is "the legendary muscle that wants and greives" according to Robert Pinskey. No other organ in your body has enjoyed as much mystery and critical acclaim throughout the history of humanity than the heart.
It has for eons been identified as the center of the human body, mind, and spirit. In ancient texts across a wide variety of cultures the heart is identified as the emotional seat or the seat of life.
In Ancient Egyptian culture to be “long of heart” meant to be happy. In traditional Chinese medicine the heart, in conjunction with other systems, houses Shen or consciousness. There are a multitude of other examples that suggest your heart is so much more than a mere muscle.
On a physiological level, that’s exactly what your heart is, a muscle; or a muscular organ. It is responsible for the activity of your circulatory system. It pumps and moves blood through a circuit that includes all of your blood vessels, veins, and arteries. Your heart is located in the middle of your upper chest. It is protected by your rib cage and as well as a protective fluid sac called the pericardium. It is made up of four chambers; the upper right and left atria and the lower right and left ventricle.
Your heart is actually divided into two parts; the right atrium and ventricles make up the ‘right heart’ and the left atrium and ventricles make up the ‘left heart’. There is a muscle called the septum that divides the two sides and helps regulate the action of pumping. The action of circulation occurs in two different circuits. The pulmonary circuit which shuttles blood back and forth to the lungs and the systemic circuit which shuttles it around the rest of the body.
How Does It Work?
In the pulmonary circuit blood that is deoxygenated leaves the heart via the right ventricle, through the pulmonary artery, goes into the lungs, where it picks up oxygen and then cycles back around to left atrium and enters the heart through the pulmonary vein. In the systemic circuit blood containing oxygen leaves your heart via the left ventricle through your aorta and from there begins a grand adventure out into your body through all of your veins and vessels. Once it supplies the rest of your body with oxygen it cycles back around as deoxygenated blood, enters the right atrium of your heart through your venae cavae. Whew, what a journey.
All of this happens because the cells of your heart, found in your sinoatrial node, can stimulate an electrical impulse like a pacemaker, which is how your heart beats. It goes something like this; first your heart muscle is relaxed, which is officially referred to as the early diastolic stage. Then your atrium decides to take action and contracts (atrial systole), this causes blood to be pushed into the ventricle, which in turn stimulates the ventricle to contract, further moving the blood along and out into the respective circuits. After the ventricles have contracted fully, they release and relax and the whole cycle starts again.
The fact that blood moves through both sections of your heart at different times accounts for the lub lub of your heart beat. It also is why you have two different levels of pressure in your heart, which are the numbers that show up when you take your blood pressure. The top number, the systolic, represents the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts. The bottom number, the diastolic, represents the pressure between the contractions when your heart is relaxed. These numbers represent the peaks and valleys of your heart rate variability, which incidentally is not supposed to be an even cycle. The more variability, the better.
Have you heard the phrase tugging at your heart strings? Well, believe it or not you do have heart strings; very real ones. They anchor your valves to your heart muscle, I imagine tugging at them literally would be very painful; figurative tugging is bad enough.
Because your heart is muscle tissue, it can be exercised and toned like any other muscle in your body. Athletes tend to have larger hearts because they work them out. Sedentary living allows your heart muscle to lose tone, just like any other muscle you don’t use regularly so it’s a good idea to do activities that stimulate your heart each day. This can be as simple as walking regularly at a varied pace and incline. Research suggests that doing short burst interval exercises actually have the most beneficial impact on the health of you heart.
Other Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy?
Feed it well! Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Your heart filters the minutiae of the world for you. You can help it out by giving it some extra nourishing things to read, view, and hear.
And, of course, give it heart healthy foods that are rich in antioxidants, healthy fatty acids, and phytonutrients. You can try things like oatmeal, avocado, salmon, walnuts, kippers, dark green leafy veggies, and berries.