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Your heart is a friend for life—here’s how to treat it like one

Your heart is a friend for life—here’s how to treat it like one

It might sound strange to refer to your heart as a “friend,” but when you really think about how your heart serves you over a lifetime,friend might be the most appropriate term after all. From the moment it starts beating—which is long before you’re even born—your heart is working hard to supply your organs with the oxygen-rich blood they need to survive.

Your heart also works with every beat to help your cells deposit their waste products, so they can be delivered via your bloodstream to your kidneys and lungs for processing. As if this wasn’t enough, your heart also replenishes itself with blood with each heartbeat.

Without the companionship of your heart, you wouldn’t get far. That’s why treating your heart like the true friend it is can serve you well into the future. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we believe that information is power when it comes to living a long and illness-free life. In honor of February’s status as American Heart Month, here’s what you need to know about taking the best possible care of your heart.

Your heart likes to be used – but in moderation

If your heart could talk, it would tell you that it gets bored when you’re sitting on the couch for hours at a time. Your heart is healthier when you avoid sedentary activities, opting instead to get up and move around a few times each hour. When you change your position, it forces your heart to pump a little harder and reshuffle blood around your vessels. This is good exercise for your heart, and it can improve the health of your peripheral circulation, as well.

Your heart enjoys the challenge of empowering your movement throughout the day. However, putting too much demand on your heart is not a good thing. One of the most common ways that your heart becomes overburdened by increased demand is with excess body weight.

When you’re overweight or obese, your heart has to work much harder, using higher pressures, to circulate blood throughout your body. This consistently elevated blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. So, the best way to keep your heart from having to work too hard daily is to keep your body weight within the recommended range.

Your heart enjoys exercise

While your heart can become overburdened by chronically elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, your heart loves a periodic jolt in the form of physical exercise. Because your heart is a muscle, it gets stronger when it is used in dedicated bursts of exercise.

During a run, swim, bike ride, or weight-lifting session, your heart pumps harder and stronger. However, after exercising, your heart actually has to work less hard throughout the day. You can think of this as putting in the hard work to bike up a steep hill and then being able to coast downhill the rest of the day. Many medical organizations recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly to support heart health.

Your heart likes nourishing food

Certain foods are head and shoulders above others when it comes to your heart’s preferences. Your heart is best fueled by healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, fish, seeds, and walnuts. A heart-healthy diet is also high in fibrous fruits, vegetables, and complex grains. One of the most lauded dietary plans when it comes to heart health is the Mediterranean diet. This diet minimizes red meat, instead prioritizing lean meats. It allows some dairy, but that is not the focal point.

Your heart doesn’t like processed foods

As much as your heart enjoys pretending it's basking aside the Mediterranean sea, it equally dislikes being trapped in a vending machine. Put simply: your heart really does not like processed foods. The more processed a food, the harder it is on your heart.

To nourish your relationship with your heart, try to minimize the types of foods that you may find in a vending machine or in the sugary cereal aisle of the grocery store. When it comes to finding heart-healthy foods, it helps to ask yourself, “Did this grow on a plant or in the dirt? Or did it come from a creature that eats things that grow on plants or in the dirt?” If your answer is no, the food is too processed.

Your heart despises cigarettes.

Speaking of how to finesse your relationship with your heart, your heart really cannot stand cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes can have a very negative effect on your heart in a variety of ways.

First, smoking cigarettes can increase your blood pressure, which can put increased strain on your heart and damage the lining of the blood vessels of your heart, making you vulnerable to a heart attack. Cigarette smoking also can cause disease of the vessels of your circulatory system (known as “peripheral arterial disease,”), which can make it harder for your heart to get blood where it needs to go.

Cigarettes can change the flexibility of the walls of your heart and blood vessels, so your heart can’t pump as efficiently. Additionally, smoking cigarettes can thicken your blood and make you more likely to experience a blood clot or stroke.

If you think you may have started off on the wrong foot with your heart by smoking cigarettes, don’t be discouraged. There is always time to turn your relationship around. Your heart is very forgiving. If you quit smoking, after five years your stroke risk will have decreased to match that of someone who has never smoked.

Your heart says, “keep the drinks to a minimum”

Your heart may enjoy a glass of red wine from time to time, but it really doesn’t like when you drink the whole bottle—or two. Researchers think that a limited amount of alcohol may still benefit your heart health, but the jury is still out. It may be that no alcohol is the best way to go when it comes to heart health. And, certainly, binge drinking and heavy drinking are known to cause many problems for your heart. So, it’s okay to take your heart out for drinks, but make sure to order just one or stick to “mocktails” and sparkling water.

Your heart craves companionship

Your heart loves your friendship, but it does get lonely and craves a variety of social connections. In fact, research has shown that feeling isolated or having a low amount of social connections may actually contribute to heart disease. To help boost your heart health, sign up for a class, call up an old friend, or start up a pen pal relationship. Your heart will thank you later.

Your heart says “no” to drugs

Your heart is a bit of a stickler when it comes to processed foods, smoking, and heavy drinking—so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has a hard stance on illicit drugs. Many drugs can be hard on your heart. One of the most notorious drugs is cocaine. Doing cocaine can stress out your heart and make you vulnerable to experiencing severe heart rhythm problems or heart attacks, even at a young age.

Your heart likes coffee and tea—but in moderation

Researchers have found that coffee and tea may have very beneficial effects when it comes to your heart health. A tea party with your heart, especially if you’re drinking black or green tea, is a great way to connect. However, when it comes to caffeine, more is not better. Consuming too much caffeine, especially in the form of caffeine shots or energy drinks, can cause palpitations and harm to your heart.

Your heart appreciates a good night’s sleep

If you feel your heart beating a little faster once the clock strikes midnight, it may be because it’s telling you to stop what you’re doing and go to bed. Sleep is a critical time for your body to repair and recover, and your heart is no exception to the rule. During sleep, your blood pressure is typically at the lowest point of the day, which means that your heart can rest, pump a little less forcefully, and recover from the day. It stands to reason, then, that insomnia is an enemy of your heart.

Researchers have shown a connection between insomnia and high blood pressure. Not getting a good night of sleep may also increase your risk of suffering a stroke. So, after a day of treating your heart like a friend, the last little gesture you can make is to tuck yourself in at a reasonable hour and give your heart the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep it craves.

How to learn more about treating your heart like a friend

As one of your closest lifelong friends, your heart deserves the best. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we understand the importance of treating your heart well to avoid the negative consequences of heart disease. To learn more about heart disease, or to be evaluated or screened for heart disease, contact our primary care team at Lompoc Valley Medical Center today.