For almost 10 years I have taught Anatomy and Physiology to nursing students. Interestingly we are currently studying the heart chapter during Heart Health Month. As I teach I am constantly being reminded of the exquisiteness of the heart muscle. I believe that heart health begins with an awareness of how fantastic our heart muscle truly is. It has so many qualities that we as humans find important to navigating our lives. Our heart gives us a road map of healthy behaviors to increase the quality of life. I think if we can have an appreciation for what our hearts do for us perhaps we will treat it better. The size of a human fist, the heart is the only muscle in our body that never rests. It is always working for our good to stay alive. The main function of the heart is to act as an engine that allows our body to perform its functions. As an engine it pumps out 4-5 liters of blood to the entire body every minute (that’s two 2-liter sodas worth of blood every minute!). When we exercise it can pump five times that amount in one minute’s time. The heart recognizes the importance of self-care, providing nourishment to itself first before supplying blood to any other part of the body. It understands that without nourishment it will not be able to keep all the other parts operational.
The heart has an amazing ability to change and adapt, to be flexible in its environment, to remain supple and to correct a dangerous situation. This is literally life saving. When the heart’s arteries become blocked it creates new ones to continue nourishing itself.
The heart also has an intricate communication system so that multiple muscle cells can work at the same time. It understands the importance of collective work and communication to get a task accomplished with split-second accuracy. The heart regulates itself but can be influenced by positive outside factors from other body systems. It takes new input to change direction for the good quickly.
The actions of the heart are like a metaphor of the best way for us to live our lives. Knowing this, perhaps when we get a diagnosis of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or coronary artery disease we will take it very seriously. We will listen to the advice of our health care practitioners about how to take better care of our hearts. Perhaps we will eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole-grains every day. Perhaps we will become willing to exercise 30 minutes 5 times per week. Perhaps we will manage our stress to reduce the extra burden such stress can place on our hearts. Perhaps we will help to extend the life of our heart through changing our behaviors that cause damage to our hearts. Perhaps with this new knowledge of how exquisite our heart is we can change the statistics that 1 in 2 women will die of heart disease.
I believe our hearts have a lot to teach us about how to love ourselves better. Are you willing to listen?
Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.