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Love Your Heart

It is fascinating that we humans are no bigger than a poppy seed when our hearts first begin to beat during our moms’ 4th week of pregnancy. And with no effort on our parts, our hearts beat 100,000 times a day. Each minute, this 10-ounce muscle pumps more than a gallon of blood through 6 thousand miles of vessels to deliver oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to my body cells. Amazing.

Our hearts also work better when we are happy. A strong sense of emotional vitality can actually lower our risk for heart disease. When we laugh, for example, the lining of our blood vessels relaxes, increasing the flow of life-generating blood. This effect can last for up to 45 minutes after a hearty laugh, say some experts.

On the other hand, stress can literally cause our hearts to ache. A surge of stress hormones can lead to a real condition known as "broken heart syndrome." And the symptoms—shortness of breath and chest pain—can mimic a heart attack.

Here are some ways to give our hearts tender loving care: Put regular exercise at the top of the list. It’s the single most important thing we can do for our hearts, say experts. Besides strengthening this vital muscle, exercise releases hormones that relieve us from stress.

Find your best diet. According to a debate by a panel of experts at a recent scientific session sponsored by the American Heart Association, everything from protein-rich Keto to the shores of the Mediterranean diets have evidence to support their heart healthfulness if they include lots of vegetables and other foods like fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Our hearts also do best when we don’t overly rely on processed meats such as bacon, sausage and other cured, salted and smoked products. And our tickers prefer foods that are not loaded with added sugar and have not lost their fiber and other nutrients through the refining process.

A nice glass of wine may not be a bad idea either (unless your doctor has advised against it.) Moderate amounts of alcohol—no more than one drink a day for women or two a day for men)—may help increase HDL, the "good" cholesterol in the blood. Grape skins also provide antioxidant substances that protect the heart and vessels from what experts call "oxidative stress." Drink more than moderately, however, and the health benefits disappear.

Stay close to someone. Studies show that loving relationships with family and friends is good for our hearts. As one survivor of broken heart syndrome said, "Don’t take life too seriously. Stay flexible to the changes life brings. Mitigate stress at all costs..take time to enjoy your life—friends, family, pets, nature—it’s really the simple things that matter most."

May we never miss a beat.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Box Butte General Hospital. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Nutrition.Email her at bquinn@bbgh.org.