Smorgasbord Health Column 2023 – The Body our Greatest Asset – The Heart and how it works by Sally Cronin

I have featured this series over the last ten years on a regular basis for new readers who might have joined the blog. Our bodies are are greatest asset. It has a long road ahead of if from birth, through the teen years, work life, parenthood, middle age and then into our 70s and beyond.

At every stage of our life healthy nutrition is essential to help the body develop and remain as disease free as possible. I appreciate that many of you may have read this series before three years ago, but I hope it will be a reminder of how amazing our bodies are, and simply eating the right foods, exercising moderately and not doing anything too reckless…will go a long way to enjoying later life to the full.

In this second series of posts I am going to be exploring the heart and its functions. 

It is over three years since I focused on the heart, and in that time the statistics for heart health and deaths from heart disease have not improved dramatically. In fact recent research is indicating the increase in obesity rates is resulting in an increased risk of heart disease for both men and women.

The Heart and how it works

We often refer to the heart as our emotional centre. When in fact our heart works in response to stimuli from our brains and the amount of blood that is pulsing through it via the circulatory system.

We can feel and hear our heart beating and it is perhaps only when we hear it miss a beat of have palpitations that we give it much thought. We can speed our heart rate, by strenuous exercise for example, and also slow down (with practice) by using relaxing techniques and breathing exercises. However, the rest of the time it is on automatic pilot.

It is important to have some understanding of how the heart works, before moving on to working on strategies to keep it pumping for as long as possible.

The Heart.

The heart is the pump that powers the circulatory or cardiovascular system formed by a network of arteries, veins and smaller blood vessels. Blood is continuously pumped out from the heart around the venal and arterial circuits carrying oxygen and vital nutrients to all parts of the body. The arteries take the blood away from the heart and the veins bring the blood back.

Chest x-ray showing heart positionThe heart itself is a muscle, approximately the size of a clenched fist, and is shaped like a large upside down pear, located just to the left of the centre of the chest.

The heart weighs around 11 ounces or 310 grams and rests in a moist chamber, called the pericardial cavity, between the lungs and surrounded by the rib cage.

The muscle is called the myocardium and forms a shell around four cavities or spaces inside the heart that fill with blood.

The two upper cavities are called atria and the bottom two spaces are called ventricles. Each side of the heart is separated by a wall called the septum and a valve connects each atrium to the ventricle below it. The valve on the left side of the body is called the mitral valve and the right side connection is called the tricuspid valve. The Endocardium lines the inside of the heart, and the heart valves, and the pericardium is a fibrous sac surrounding the heart.

Heart labelledThe top of the heart is connected to some major blood vessels – the largest being the aorta, or main artery, which carries the nutrient rich blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Another important blood vessel is the pulmonary artery, which connects the heart to the lungs.

The two largest veins that carry blood back to the heart are called the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava. The superior vena cava takes de-oxygenated blood from the head and the arms to the right atrium, and the inferior vena cava brings de-oxygenated blood back up from the legs and lower body also into the right atrium.

The cardiac muscle contracts between 70 and 80 beats per minute and if it is to last the normal life-span it will beat over 3 billion times. This means that the muscle has to be incredibly strong and healthy.

De-oxygenated blood always returns to the body through the right side of the heart into the atrium and then onto the lungs to pick up the oxygen. It is then returned to the heart where it enters the left side into the atrium and ventricle to be pumped to all the other parts of the body in a continuous cycle.

How does the heart beat?

The heart beats automatically without our thought or intervention and the number of beats is maintained by an electrical impulse that originates from the body’s own natural pacemaker called the sinoatrial node. The electrical impulse is sent through the atria which stimulates a contraction then through to the atrioventricular node where it will pause for a fraction of a second before continuing down special conducting fibres to the ventricles, causing them to contract.

Specific nerves called autonomic nerves, the main one being the vagus nerve, regulate the amount of times our heart beats. The ideal rate is maintained at around 70 beats at rest but is then speeded up during exercise or stress. The cardiac nerves react to messages sent from the hypothalamus, in the medulla part of the brain, and the beat rate will also increase when the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, is released. This increases the amount of blood and therefore oxygen that is made available to the heart and the rest of the body.

Risk factors for heart disease and stroke are largely similar for men and women.

  • Factors such as age and family history play a role, but it is estimated that the majority of CVD deaths are due to modifiable risk factors such as smoking, high unhealthy form of cholesterol, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, obesity, stress or diabetes
  • Heart disease was associated with men until the last twenty years and now cardiovascular disease (CVD) – heart disease and stroke – is the biggest killer of women globally, killing more women than all cancers, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

Next time I will be covering Angina and other common heart health conditions.

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2023

A little bit about me nutritionally. .

About Sally Cronin

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-four years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain.

Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 21 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

You can buy my books from: Amazon US – and: Amazon UK – Follow me :Goodreads – Twitter: @sgc58 – Facebook: Sally Cronin – LinkedIn: Sally Cronin


Thanks reading and I hope you will join me again next week…Sally.


48 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column 2023 – The Body our Greatest Asset – The Heart and how it works by Sally Cronin

  1. Sally, a very important heart health post. And so well written. I just bought a Littman Cardiology IV stethoscope to check my significant other’s lungs and heart. I’m a retired nurse practitioner, but back in the business, it seems. Robert has complex asthma and had pneumonia, and home for 10 days. He’s a Vietnam vet and was exposed to Agent Orange in the 70s. After his triple antibiotic treatment, he continues with Prednisone and Nebulizer medicine inhalations. Thank you for this detailed post. It’s an important one. Christine

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I spent Monday and Tuesday in the hospital after my doctor became concerned about my low pulse rate. I did an EKG, echocardiogram, blood, and stress test, and everything turned out well. I felt a bit run down, which added to his concern, but my pulse seemed better today. I hope it’s a side effect of a prescribed drug I’ve been taking. The doctor also mentioned that my heart rate might be lower because my fitness has greatly improved. I read your post with great interest, Sally.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column 2023 – The Body our Greatest Asset – The Heart and how it works by Sally Cronin | Retired? No one told me!

  4. Thanks for the simple introduction to how the heart works, Sally. I am sure many people will now understand it better.
    As an ex-science teacher, (mainly biology, but we now have to teach all sciences up to GCSE) I appreciate the simplicity of your diagram and explanation. I’m sure most of your readers would have learned it at school, but I suspect have forgotten most of it!
    A reminder is important.

    Liked by 2 people

      • My mother had angina for years before she sadly passed away. I had an irregular heartbeat and was referred to cardiology. I had tests and was lucky enough to have a consultant who had this as a special interest. He said, “I know exactly what’s wrong.”
        I had a ‘procedure’ to zap a few cells that were firing out of kilter, and it fixed it immediately.
        But the procedure itself was highly unpleasant. Very painful, but worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up 6th – 12th February 2023 – Spring, Operation TBR, Big Band, Quincy Jones, Heart Health, Food for Romance, Bloggers, Book Reviews and Funnies | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

I would be delighted to receive your feedback (by commenting, you agree to Wordpress collecting your name, email address and URL) Thanks Sally

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