How Does the Heart Work

how the heart worksMs. Smith’s mother and father both have heart disease. She wants to know how the heart works and what she can do to maintain a healthy heart. The heart is a muscle that provides the force needed to move blood around your entire body and return back to the heart. The heart is the size of your fist, and is located just left of the center of your chest, behind your rib cage.  The heart has four chambers: two upper, smaller chambers called the right and left atria (singular: atrium) and two lower, larger chambers called the right and left ventricles.

Valves are located between the chambers of the heart to keep blood flowing in one direction throughout the body. The valve on the right side of the heart is called the tricuspid valve and the valve on the left side of the heart is the mitral valve.

Blood from the body enters the right atrium, and passes through the tricuspid valve to the right ventricle. The right ventricle pumps blood through the pulmonary valve into the lungs. In the lungs, hemoglobin in the blood binds oxygen, becoming “oxygenated”. Oxygenated blood then returns from the lungs and enters the left atrium of the heart. When the left atrium contracts, it forces the oxygenated blood to pass through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle.  The blood in the left ventricle is then pumped through the aortic valve and into the aorta, where it is distributed throughout the body via blood vessels.  After delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body, the deoxygenated blood returns to the heart through the right atrium, just 20 seconds after it left the heart as oxygenated blood. The cycle repeats thousands of times each day.

Tips for a Healthy Heart

  • Exercise regularly to strengthen the heart muscle, lower blood pressure and reduce stress on blood vessels.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables to supply the body with needed nutrients and maintain a healthy weight.

Next Steps:

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