The human heart is an amazing part of our body. It beats without us having to think about it or tell it what to do. Our hearts beat 24/7, 365 days a year. It seems to ask little from us, but gives us so much in return.

It is not by chance that February, the month of Valentine’s Day and the month we celebrate all things love, was picked as National Heart Health Month.

The average adult heart weighs less than a pound and is located in the center of the chest. According to NOVA Online (www.pbs.org/NOVA), the human heart beats about 100,000 times a day and allows about 2,000 gallons of blood to go through the body. In a year the heart will beat about 35 million times. In one’s lifetime, the human heart will beat approximately 2.5 billion times. The heart beats approximately 72 times per minute, maybe slower in athletes and as high as 120 beats per minute in babies and 90 beats per minute in children.

Yet, our heart is an important muscle and like all muscles it needs care to work at its best. Fed a steady diet of fats and inactivity, and its arteries become clogged like pipes of a drain. In the case of the heart, it is not water that can’t get through, but blood. Blood is needed to carry oxygen to every cell in our bodies.

A diet high in fat can cause a blockage in our arteries. A blockage can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. Smoking is also something which has a bad effect on our hearts. Smoking closes blood vessels, which makes it hard for blood to flow.

However, a diet that is rich in fiber, which is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with lean proteins, and low or nonfat dairy products is helpful in making sure our arteries will remain clear which helps our hearts beat strong. For more information on heart health, check websites such as www.dietaryguidelines.gov and myplate.gov.

Not all fats are created equal. When fats are talked about in with a heart-healthy diet, saturated fats are the culprit. Lard, and the white fat surrounding meats, and butter — fat that is solid at room temperature — should be avoided. Olive oil, avocadoes, canola oil and those types of fats are fine in moderate amounts.

Physical activity is also good for a healthy heart. Physical activity will help with keeping a healthy weight. Weight gain, which left unchecked, can lead to obesity. Obesity puts extra strain on the heart. Physical activity does not have to mean running a marathon. It can be as simple as walking. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the recommended activity level for the average adult is 30 minutes most days of the week (2 hours and 30 minutes per week) at a moderate pace. Moderate is defined as moving at a pace that gets the heart rate up and breaks a sweat. In other words, you can carry on a conversation with someone, but you can’t sing. Examples of moderate physical activity include walking, gardening (raking and trimming shrubs), water aerobics, dancing and bicycling, anything that gets your heart rate up is good.

In addition to a well-balanced diet and physical activity, emotional health is important. Constant stress puts a strain on the heart. A study from the University Of Rochester Medical Center found chronic stress increases the stress hormone cortisol, increases blood pressure and blood sugar, which are all risk factors for heart disease.

Feeling a connection with others (including our pets), doing activities we enjoy, meditation, yoga and laughing are all stress reducers and can boost the immune system, all of which makes our heart happy.

Take care of your heart and your heart will take care of you. It will be around for all those billions of beats, beats that you can share with your loved ones.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Ann Bloom lives in Enterprise and has worked for the OSU Extension Service for 15 years as a nutrition educator. She studied journalism and education at Washington State University.

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