The Care Of The Heart-pump

Sources: A Handbook Of Health

The Effect of Work upon the Heart. Whatever else in this body of ours

may be able to take a rest at times, the heart never can. When it stops,

we stop! Naturally, with such a constant strain upon it, we should

expect it to have a tendency to give way, or break down, at certain

points. The real wonder is that it breaks down so seldom. It has great

powers of endurance and a wonderful trick of patching up break-downs and

adjusting itself to strains.

Every kind of work, of course, done in the body throws more work upon

the heart. When we run, or saw wood, our muscles contract, and need more

food-fuel to burn, and pour more waste-stuff into the blood to be thrown

off through the lungs; so the heart has to beat harder and faster to

supply these calls. When our stomach digests food, it needs a larger

supply of blood in its walls, and the heart has to pump harder to

deliver this. Even when we think hard or worry over something, our brain

cells need more blood, and the ever-willing heart again pumps it up to

them. This is the chief reason why we cannot do more than one of these

things at a time to advantage. If we try to think hard, run foot races,

and digest our dinner all at one and the same time, neither head,

stomach, nor muscles can get the proper amount of blood that it

requires; we cannot do any one of the three properly, and are likely to

develop a headache, or an attack of indigestion, or a stitch in the

side, and sometimes all three. So the circulation has a great deal to

do with the intelligent planning and arranging of our work, our meals,

and our play. If we are going to increase our endurance, we must

increase the power of our heart and blood vessels, as well as that of

our muscles. The real thing to be trained in the gymnasium and on the

athletic field is the heart rather than the muscles.

Fortunately, however, the heart is itself a muscle, alive and growing,

and with the same power of increasing in strength and size that any

other muscle has. So that up to a proper limit, all these things which

throw strain upon the heart in moderate degree, such as running,

working, and thinking, are not only not harmful, but beneficial to it,

increasing both its strength and its size. The heart, for instance, of a

thoroughbred race-horse is nearly twice the size, in proportion to his

body weight, of the heart of a dray-horse or cart-horse; and a deer has

more than twice as large a heart as a sheep of the same weight.

The important thing to bear in mind in both work and play, in athletic

training, and in life, is that this work must be kept easily within the

powers of the heart and of the other muscles, and must be increased

gradually, and never allowed to go beyond a certain point, or it becomes

injurious, instead of beneficial; hurtful, instead of helpful. Over-work

in the shop or factory, overtraining in the gymnasium or on the

athletic field, both fall first and heaviest upon the heart.

Importance of Food, Air, and Exercise. At the same time, the system

must be kept well supplied through the stomach with the raw material

both for doing this work and for building up this new muscle. When

anyone, in training for an event, gets stale, or overtrained, and

loses his appetite and his sleep, he had better stop at once, for that

is a sign that he is using more energy than his food is able to give him

through his stomach; and the stomach has consequently gone on a


How to Avoid Heart Overstrain and Heart Disease. The way, then, to

avoid overstrain and diseases of the heart and blood vessels is:--

First, to take plenty of exercise, but to keep that exercise within

reasonable limits, which, in childhood, ought to be determined by a

school physician, and in workshops and factories by a state factory


Second, to take that exercise chiefly in the open air, and as much of it

as possible in the form of play, so that you can stop whenever you begin

to feel tired or your heart throbs too hard--in other words, whenever

nature warns you that you are approaching the danger line.

Third, to keep yourself well supplied with plenty of nutritious,

wholesome, digestible food, so as to give yourself, not merely power to

do the work, but something besides to grow on.

Fourth, to avoid poisonous and hurtful things like the toxins of

infectious diseases; and alcohol, tobacco, and other narcotics, which

have a harmful effect upon the muscles, valves, or nerves of your heart,

or the walls of your blood vessels.

Fortunately, the heart is so wonderfully tough and elastic, and can

repair itself so rapidly, that it usually takes at least two, and

sometimes three, causes acting together, to produce serious disease or

damage. For instance, while muscular overwork and overstrain alone may

cause serious and even permanent damage to the heart, they most

frequently do so in those who are underfed, or badly housed, or

recovering from the attack of some infectious disease. While the poisons

of rheumatism and alcohol will alone cause serious damage to the valves

of the heart and walls of the blood vessels, yet they again are much

more liable to do so in those who are overworked, or underfed, or


The Disease of the Stiffening of the Arteries. The points at which our

pipe-line system is most likely to give way are the valves of the heart,

and, more likely still, the muscles of the heart wall and of the walls

of the blood vessels. These little muscles are slowly, but steadily,

changing all through life, becoming stiffer and less elastic, less

alive, in fact, until finally, in old age, they become stiff and rigid,

turning into leathery, fibrous tissue, and may even become so soaked

with lime salts as to become brittle, so that they may burst under some

sudden strain. When this occurs in one of the arteries of the brain, it

causes an attack of apoplexy, or a stroke of paralysis. Overstrain,

or toxins in the blood, may bring about this stiffening of the arteries

too soon, and then, we say that the person is old before his time. A

man is literally as old as his arteries.

The causes which will hasten the stiffening of the arteries are, first

of all, prolonged overwork and overstrain,--due especially to long hours

of steady work in unwholesome shops or surroundings; second, the

presence in the blood of the poisons of the more chronic infectious

diseases, like tuberculosis; third, the waste products that are formed

in our own body, and are not properly got rid of through lungs, skin,

and kidneys; and fourth, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other


The Bad Effects of Alcohol. Alcohol is particularly likely to damage

the walls of the blood vessels and the heart, first, because it is a

direct poison to their cells, when taken in excess, and often in what

may appear to be moderate amounts, if long continued; secondly, because

it is frequently taken, especially by the poorer, underfed class of

workers, as a substitute for food, causing them literally to spend

their money for that which is not bread, and to leave their tissues

half-starved; and thirdly, because, by its narcotic effects, it

decreases respiration and clogs the kidneys and the skin, thus

preventing the waste products from leaving the body.

How the Heart Valves may be Injured. The valves of the heart are

likely to give way, partly because they are under such constant strain,

snapping backward and forward day and night; and partly, because, in

order to be thin enough and strong enough for this kind of work, they

have become turned, almost entirely, into stringy, half-dead, fibrous

tissue, which has neither the vitality nor the resisting power of the

live body-stuffs like muscles, gland-cells, and nerves. They are so

tough, however, that they seldom give way under ordinary wear and tear,

as the leather of a pump valve, or of your shoes, might; but the thing

which damages them, nine times out of ten, is the germs or poisons of

some infectious disease.

These poisons circulating through the blood, sometimes set up a severe

inflammation in the valves and the lining of the heart. Ulcers, or

little wart-like growths, form on the valves; and these may either eat

away and destroy entirely parts of the valves or, when they heal, leave

scars which shorten and twist the valves out of shape, so that they can

no longer close the openings. When this has happened, the heart is in

the condition of a pump which will not hold water, because the leather

valve in its bucket is broken or warped; and we say that the patient

has valvular or organic heart disease.

The disease which most frequently causes this serious defect is

rheumatism, or rheumatic fever; but it may also occur after pneumonia,

typhoid, blood poisoning, or even after a common cold, or an attack of

the grip. This is one of several reasons why we should endeavor, in

every way, to avoid and stop the spread of these infectious diseases;

not only are they dangerous in themselves, but although only two of

them, rheumatism and pneumonia, frequently attack the heart, all of them

do so occasionally, and together they cause nearly nine-tenths of all

cases of organic heart disease.

Should you be unfortunate enough to catch one of these diseases, the

best preventive against its attacking the heart, or causing serious

damage, if it does, is a very simple one--rest in bed until the fever is

all gone and your doctor says it is perfectly safe for you to get up;

and avoid any severe muscular strain for several months afterward.

This is a most important thing to remember after all infections and

fevers, no matter how mild. Even where the heart valves have been

seriously attacked, as in rheumatism, they will often recover almost

completely if you keep at rest, and your heart is not overtaxed by the

strain of heavy, muscular work, before it has entirely recovered. Ten

days' taking it easy after a severe cold, or a bad sore throat, may

save you a serious strain upon the heart, from which you might be months

or even years in recovering.

But even where serious damage has been done to the heart, so that one of

its valves leaks badly, nature is not at the end of her resources. She

simply sets to work to build up and strengthen and thicken the heart

muscle until it is strong enough to overcome the defect and pump blood

enough to keep the body properly supplied--just as, if you are working

with a leaky pump, you will have to pump harder and faster in order to

keep a good stream of water flowing. It is astonishing how completely

she will make good the loss of even a considerable part of a valve.

Doctors no longer forbid patients with heart disease to take exercise,

but set them at carefully planned exercise in the open air, particularly

walking and hill-climbing; at the same time feeding them well, so as to

assist nature in building up and strengthening the heart muscle until it

can overcome the defect. In this way, they may live, with reasonable

care, ten, fifteen, or twenty years--often, in fact, until they die of

something else.

Don't worry about your heart if it should happen to palpitate, or take a

hop-skip-and-jump occasionally. You will never get real heart disease

until you have had some fever or serious illness, which leaves you short

of breath for a long time afterward.

Danger to the Heart through the Nervous System. The other chief way in

which the heart may be affected is through the nervous system. Being the

great supply pump for the entire body, it is, of course, connected most

thoroughly and elaborately by nerve wires with the brain and, through

it, with every other organ in the body. So delicately is it geared,--set

on such a hair-trigger, as it were,--that it not only beats faster when

work is done anywhere in the body, but begins to hurry in anticipation

of work to be done anywhere. You all know how your heart throbs and

beats like a hammer and goes pit-a-pat when you are just expecting to do

something important,--for instance, to speak a piece or strike a fast

ball,--or even when you are greatly excited watching somebody else do

something, as in the finish of a close race.

Two-thirds of the starts and jumps and throbbings that the heart makes,

are due to excitement, or nervous overstrain, or the fact that your

dinner is not digesting properly; and they don't indicate anything

serious at all, but are simply useful danger signals to you that

something is not just right.

In work and in athletics for instance, this rapid and uncomfortably

vigorous action of the heart is one of nature's best checks and guides.

When your heart begins to throb and plunge uncomfortably, you should

slow up until it begins to quiet down again, and you will seldom get

into serious trouble. The next time you try the same feat, you will

probably find that you can go a little farther, or faster, without

making it throb. Indeed, getting into training is very largely getting

the heart built up and educated, so that you can run or play, or wrestle

hard without overtaxing it. Whatever you can do within the limits of

your heart is safe, wholesome, and invigorating; whatever goes beyond

this, is dangerous and likely to be injurious.

Occasionally, however, some of the nerves which control the heart become

disturbed or diseased so that, instead of the heart's simply beating

harder and faster whenever more blood is really needed, it either throbs

and beats a great deal harder and faster than is necessary, or goes

racing away on its own account, and beats for dear life, when there is

no occasion for it, thus tiring itself out without doing any good, and

producing a very unpleasant feeling of nervousness and discomfort. This

may be due to overwork, whether with muscles or brain; or to worry or

loss of sleep, in which case it means that you must put on the brakes,

take plenty of rest and exercise in the open air, and get plenty of

sleep. Then these danger signals, having accomplished their warning

purpose, will disappear.

Other Causes of Heart Trouble. At other times, this palpitation is due

to the presence of poisons in the blood, either those of infectious

disease, or of certain waste products produced in the body in excess,

as, for instance, when your digestion is out of order, or your skin,

kidneys, and bowels are not working properly; or it is due to tea,

coffee, or tobacco.

Effects of Tea and Coffee. Tea and coffee, if taken in excess, will

sometimes produce very uncomfortable palpitation, or rapid over-action

of the heart, with restlessness and inability to sleep. They usually act

in this way only when taken in large amounts, or upon a small percentage

of persons who are peculiarly affected by them; and this palpitation is

seldom serious, and disappears when their excessive use is stopped.

Tobacco and its Dangers to the Heart. Tobacco has a very injurious

effect upon the nerves of the heart in the young, making them so

irritable that the heart will beat very rapidly on the least exertion;

so that gradually one becomes less and less inclined to attempt exertion

of any sort, whether bodily or mental, and falls into a stagnant, stupid

sort of condition which seriously interferes with both growth and


In other cases, tobacco dulls and deadens the nerves controlling the

heart, as it does the rest of the nervous system and the brain, so that

the smoker feels as if nothing were worth while doing very hard, and it

becomes difficult for him to fix his mind upon a subject. At the same

time, it dulls the appetite so that one takes less wholesome food; and

it checks, or clogs up, the sewer-pipes of the skin, the liver, and the


Of course, as you know, all trainers and coaches, even though they be

habitual smokers themselves, absolutely forbid tobacco in any form to

athletes who are training for a contest, on account of its effects upon

the nervous system and the heart.

A certain percentage of individuals are peculiarly susceptible to

tobacco, so that it has a special poisonous effect upon the nerves of

the heart, causing a rapid pulse and shortness of breath, known as

tobacco heart. This is not of very common occurrence; but it is

exceedingly troublesome when it does occur, and it takes a long time to

get over it, even after the use of tobacco has been stopped entirely.

Sometimes it leads to permanent damage of the nerves and of the heart.

Give your heart plenty of vigorous exercise, but don't make it beat

uncomfortably hard. Give it plenty of food, sleep, and fresh air; avoid

poisoning it, either with the toxins of diseases, or with your own

waste-poisons, or alcohol, or tobacco; and it will serve you faithfully

till a good old age.