Listen to your heart and you’ll live longer |

Listen to your heart and you’ll live longer

Hi, I’m Nancy Swayzee, and I’m going to be writing on an occasional basis. I am an exercise and neuro-muscular therapist with 20 years of experience in dealing with bodies: injured bodies, aging bodies, weak bodies, overweight bodies and bodies that hurt.

My private practice was in Truckee for 10 years, where I also developed and taught most of the exercise classes for Tahoe Forest Hospital.

In 1998 my first book, “Breathworks For Your Back…Strengthening Your Back From the Inside Out” was published. I’m currently working on a second book and with patients on a consultant basis only. (I love semi-retirement!)

Part of my practice in the last few years has been working with brain injury, stroke recovery and Parkinson’s disease.

I have a deep interest in the study of the connection between physical movement and cognitive function, and a lot of information about that subject will appear on and off in this column.

Primarily, I will be sharing a variety of knowledge and information about healthy aging (even if you’re only 35, it applies!), stress management and healthy brain function.

Occasionally I will throw in a few thoughts about the role our spiritual lives (particularly our outlook) play in our overall health. All of this will be delivered with a splash of humor and written from my heart.

Speaking of hearts, do you know how many times your heart beats every day? The average heart beats about 100,000 times a day during normal activity.

If you’re in poor physical condition, your heart has to beat a lot more than that – because your heart, which is a pump, is also a muscle and like any other muscle needs to be strong enough to do its job … which is pumping your five liters of blood from your heart, through your entire body, and back to your heart again – every minute!

If it’s a weak muscle it can’t pump very much blood with each beat, so it takes more beats to get that five liters back around.

Believe it or not, an Olympic athlete’s heart can push that five liters of blood through eight times in a minute when they’re exercising.

That’s because their heart muscle is so strong it can pump twice as much blood with each beat as a healthy, sedentary person. The secret?

Exercise, of course – and I’ll be talking a lot about that in this column, but mainly about how to integrate exercise into your life in small increments. No marathons, I promise.

Now to get back to the heart. If your heart can pump more blood with each beat, it can beat less, which means a slower resting heart rate … and it stands to reason that if it doesn’t have to work so hard, it might last longer. That’s a good thing.

But the heart is a fascinating organ. For instance, did you know the heart has a brain?

During the 1990s, the science of neurocardiology emerged and has been growing ever since. We now know that the heart has 40,000 nerve cells called baroreceptors, it has its own network of neurotransmitters, proteins, and its own support cells.

It even has powerful and very sophisticated abilities to compute … or think. The “heart brain” acts independently of our head.

In a fetus, the heart develops before either the nervous system or the thinking brain have developed. The electrical signal and its information are pulsed to every cell of the body with every heartbeat.

Each heartbeat sends a wave signal that travels through our arteries faster than the flow of blood.

Every heartbeat sends a chemical messenger throughout the body – atrial peptide. This is a primary driver of our behavior, and therefore affects outcomes.

My message to you … Listen to your heart and take care of it.

By the way, next column we’ll talk about your “gut feeling.”

Nancy Swayzee is an exercise and neuro-muscular therapist.

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