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If you’ve recently perused any health-related magazine or website, then you are probably well aware that heart health seems to be a large topic of discussion, and for good reason.
Over the years, much has been discovered about how pivotal a healthy heart is when it comes to maintaining overall wellbeing. Which if you think about it, makes sense – here’s why.
Your heart and blood vessels (i.e., the cardiovascular system) serve as the body’s main transportation system. Metaphorically speaking, the cardiovascular system is much like the delivery service – FedEx. The heart is like the engine of the FedEx truck, the blood vessels are the roads that the trucks travel on and things like oxygen and nutrients are the packages that need to be delivered.
On a daily basis, each body system places orders for the supplies (i.e., oxygen and nutrients) necessary for their everyday functions. In a healthy system, the roads are clear and packages are delivered in a well-organized fashion – thus, keeping each system working optimally. Unfortunately, many factors have been found to disrupt the cardiovascular system, leaving the roads (blood vessels) blocked and certain body systems without the oxygen and nutrients they need to operate.
And what might these factors be?
Things like the foods you eat, the amount of physical activity you engage in and stress levels have all been found to affect functions of the cardiovascular system. And while most articles about heart health involve talk about diet and exercise, stress is often only briefly mentioned or is completely left out of the discussion.
The problem – stress is an important piece of the puzzle! Research suggests that stress not only increases a person’s tendency to participate in unhealthy behaviors, it also triggers physiological responses that can be disruptive to both your heart and blood vessels.
But before we delve into how stress impacts your cardiovascular system, let’s first cover the basics of how your heart and blood vessels work to keep your body running.
CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM FUNCTION
The cardiovascular system is your body’s lifeline. As mentioned before, this system is made up of the heart, blood vessels (e.g., arteries & veins) and blood. Its main function – to carry oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body. On a daily basis, the approximately 5 liters of blood in your body is pumped several times through the 60,000 miles of blood vessels that run head-to-toe.
And what’s the driving force that pumps the blood throughout your blood vessels? The heart (your body’s engine). On average, your heart beats anywhere from 60-100 times per minute; though it is constantly receiving feedback from your brain (your body’s command and control center) that tells it when to pump more or less blood depending on your needs. For example –
- During exercise or a stressful situation, the heart beats faster so that more oxygen and nutrients can be delivered to the working cells.
- During sleep, cells require less oxygen and nutrients thus, your heart beat is much slower.
The blood vessels are the roadways that carry the blood pumped by the heart. Arteries (red) carry blood away from the heart and contain the packages filled with oxygen and nutrients that need to be delivered to the cells of the body. Veins (blue) are the vessels that bring blood back to the heart. They carry waste that is produced inside the cells as well as the empty packages that need to be refilled with oxygen and nutrients.
Together, the heart and blood vessels work non-stop as the cells of the body cannot survive without a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. Any disruption to the system and you’ve got a problem on your hands. In other words, if you’ve got uncontrolled stress in your life, you might want to read on.
STRESS & YOUR CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
If you remember from the Stress & Your Health blog post, the cells in your body work best when the environment surrounding them is kept constant. Stress (from either external or internal sources) disrupts the environment around the cells and if not kept to a minimum, can challenge the body’s ability to correct the disruption. This places the cell under stressed conditions (i.e., OXIDATIVE STRESS) and has the potential to interrupt their ability to function normally. Over time, cell malfunction leads to a disruption of entire body systems which impacts your ability to function optimally.
In this case, high stress loads can negatively impact the function of cells that make up the heart and blood vessels. For example, stress can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as well as elevate levels of stress hormones – all things that can eventually interfere with optimal cardiovascular system function.
WAYS TO A HEALTHY HEART
Keeping your heart in good health is important as it is at the center of many body functions! Be sure to include the strategies listed below into your daily routine to maintain a strong, healthy heart.
- Daily activity (30 minutes, most days of the week; be sure to include strength training 2 days per week)
- Adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night for adults)
- A well-balanced diet (one that is high in fruits/veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, nuts, & seeds)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stress management