Muscles are mandatory when it comes to operating efficiently as a human being and the human body has more than 600 of them.
Along with bones, tendons and joints, muscles provide power, mobility and strength to our bodies.
Without them, we would not be able to move and enjoy the many wonders of life. We could not walk, run, lift, pull, swing etc. Life would be stationary and boring for sure!
Our musculoskeletal system does everything from lifting heavy objects to pumping oxygenated blood.
Even our faces have numerous working muscles. Look in the mirror and check out your subtle eye movements, facial expressions and smile. They are all the result of skeletal muscle movement.
Most muscular action requires muscle control. If we want to lift something, we focus on it and apply our muscular power to lifting it. However, there is one muscle that does its job without any conscious thought on our part.
This muscle stands out from all the rest and we can easily put it at the top of our priority list. It is the essential muscle/player when it comes to our overall health. Without this muscle doing its job, the rest of our muscles never have a chance to perform.
This muscle is, of course, our heart muscle. Most of us think of our hearts as an organ, and it is. But it is also a muscle. Our hearts are "muscular organs".
"Cardiac muscles", also known as myocardium, together form our heart organ along with a specialised group of cells found exclusively in the heart called "pacemaker cells". These unique cells are empowered to control our heartbeat – without any conscious input from us.
The primary purpose of our heart muscles is to pump blood out to circulate throughout the body and then relax and allow it back in. It does this using four heart chambers along with heart valves. The four chambers consist of two top ones called atria and two bottom chambers called ventricles.
Oxygen poor blood enters our hearts and is sent to the lungs where it rids itself of carbon dioxide and receives a fresh boost of oxygen. This oxygen rich blood is sent back to our hearts where it is pumped back into our bodies. Basically, two atria chambers receive blood and two ventricle chambers pump blood out.
With our entire lives riding on the health of our hearts, one would think its health would be the primary focus of everyone's life. So, it is rather surprising that heart disease ranks as the number one killer globally. But it does.
Fortunately for us, there are proactive steps we can take to protect our hearts, lower the risk, and reduce the chances of succumbing to heart disease.
Get active – Heart disease is categorised as a "lifestyle disease" meaning the way we live our lives and the habits we keep put us at risk or protect us. Inactive people, whose habits fall into the sedentary category, place themselves in dangerous territory. Physical activity not only helps us to control weight and exercise our heart muscles, but it also reduces chances of getting high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
High blood pressure presents a major risk for heart disease and high cholesterol clogs arteries and raises the risk for "coronary heart disease" and heart attack. When we move our skeletal muscles, we get our blood flowing. When our blood flows, our heart muscles get exercise. An exercised heart is a healthy heart. It does not require strenuous exercise to produce positive results either.
However, when we increase the duration, intensity and frequency of our workouts, our health/heart benefits get bigger and better as well.
Healthy weight maintenance – Carrying excess weight, especially around the mid-section is a definite no-no because it opens the door to disease, including heart disease. Overweight/obese individuals risk high blood pressure and high cholesterol with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Regular exercise makes our hearts stronger and helps to keep excess weight off.
Enjoy heart-healthy foods – What we put into our bodies counts. Our body's health and weight are contingent on feeding it the right types of foods. Heart-healthy foods include:
• Fresh fruits and vegetables
• Variety of beans and legumes
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy
• Whole grains
• Lean fish and meat (grass-fed are perfect)
• Healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil for example)
As for what we should not be eating – sugar. Sugar, salt (limited – reach for herbs and spices instead), alcohol, saturated fats (those in full-fat dairy or red meat) and trans fats found in most pre-packaged snack foods, fried, and baked goods.
Reduce and eliminate stress – Stress raises blood pressure and can trigger heart attacks. Meditation (there are many types, yoga for example), exercise, relaxing/listening to music or focusing on a favourite activity helps to reduce stress levels.
Get our beauty sleep – Once again, the same issues of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity rear their ugly heads when our bodies do not get quality sleep. This in turn puts us at risk for heart disease. Sleep is the time our bodies use to go into repair, replace and rejuvenate mode. Adults require about seven to nine hours nightly.
No smoking, avoiding second-hand smoke, limited alcohol intake, managing cholesterol and blood pressure levels and monitoring any current medical condition such as diabetes is imperative if our heart muscles are to stay strong and vital and gift us with healthy longevity.
On average, our hearts pump out about 2500 gallons of blood daily. It is, without doubt, the strongest working muscle in our bodies. Isn't it time we gave it a "good beating?"
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness