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Most of us are aware that the circulatory system moves blood throughout the body, but there are many other functions of the human body that the system contributes to that you may not be aware of.
What Is the Circulatory System and What Does It Do?
The human circulatory system, also known as the cardiovascular system, carries blood and oxygen to all of the parts of the body (1), making it essential to all of the organs.
The main function of the circulatory system is to keep blood moving through the human body. The heart pumps the blood, and the blood travels throughout the rest of the body through the blood vessels. The system is responsible for regulating blood supply and the flow of blood throughout the body tissues. (2)
Circulatory System 101
A healthy circulatory system is necessary to help the heart pump blood that is needed by all of the other body tissues. The human heart is a muscle that has four chambers. There are two chambers on the left side of the heart and two chambers on the right side of the heart. The two on the left are the left atrium and left ventricle. The two on the right side of the heart muscle are the right atrium and right ventricle. The heart also has four valves that assist in moving blood by opening in only one direction. They also open only when needed, ensuring that blood flows in the correct direction and timing. (3) The atrioventricular valves facilitate this. These valves are the tricuspid valve, the mitral valve, the pulmonary valve, and the aortic valve. (4)
- Pulmonary Circulation: In addition to the heart, the respiratory system (the lungs, airway, and muscles involved in breathing) is also involved in circulation.
- Oxygen-poor Blood: The pumping cycle begins as oxygen-poor blood, which is also called deoxygenated blood, comes back to the heart after having circulated through the body. (5) This blood is carried back from the body to the heart by veins. Two of the most important veins are the vena cava and the inferior vena cava. (6) The vena cava is a large vein that helps blood travel from the head and arms into the heart. The inferior vena cava helps blood flow from the abdomen and legs into the heart. (7)
- Oxygen-rich Blood: The oxygen-poor blood from the body first fills the right atrium. The pulmonary artery is responsible for carrying the oxygen-poor blood from the heart to the lungs. (8) This blood then goes to the right ventricle. From there, the blood is pumped through the lungs where it is replenished with new oxygen from the air that the body has breathed in. This makes the blood oxygen-rich. (9) The heart also receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs through the pulmonary veins, after the blood has been refreshed by the lungs. (10)
- Systemic Circulation: Once the blood is replenished with oxygen in the lungs, the blood then flows into the left atrium and the left ventricle. Then it is pumped through the aorta, the primary artery that takes blood to the other tissues in the body, supplying them with oxygen. (11) Though blood is pumped through the heart to the other parts of the body, this blood does not nourish the heart tissue. Like any other tissue in the body, the heart needs blood to sustain it. The coronary arteries carry blood that nourishes the heart. A coronary artery is an artery that runs along the surface of the heart. (12)
- Waste Products: This system also carries the waste products away from the body’s tissues, including carbon dioxide, (13) The red blood cells are responsible for carrying the oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and other tissues of the body.
Benefits of a Healthy Circulatory System
There are many good reasons to keep your circulatory system healthy.
Better Energy Production: The oxygen moved through the body provides the cells with the energy they need to function. (14) This energy produced by the cells is what gives the human body the energy it needs to perform all of its essential functions. This includes everything from talking to thinking to movement. (15) Maintaining a healthy circulatory system can help us be more energetic and contribute to the ability to lead an active lifestyle.
Better Blood Pressure: In addition to helping blood pump through the body, keeping the circulatory system healthy has many other benefits. One of these benefits is maintaining healthy blood pressure. High blood pressure is the result of the pressure of blood pumping through blood vessels being consistently too high. (16) The circulatory system plays a part in maintaining that pressure. The two numbers that make up a blood pressure reading consist of systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) is created as the heart pumps blood out into the body. Diastolic pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) is created when the heart rests between beats. (17) Reducing high blood pressure leads to improved cardiovascular health. (18)
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can help in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Another way to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels is through nitrate. (19) Nitrate can be obtained by eating fruits and vegetables. (20) It is also available in a supplement form. (21)
Consistent Body Temperature: The circulatory system also plays an important role in maintaining proper body temperature. When your hands and feet feel cold or go numb, it may be a sign of poor circulation. (22)Maintaining proper circulation may help these symptoms.
Healthier Hair, Skin, and Nails: Circulation also plays a role in maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Those with poor circulation may find that they are losing more hair than normal. (23) Brittle fingernails may also be a sign of poor circulation. (24) Poor circulation may also result in dry skin. Improving the circulatory system may improve the appearance of these three parts of the body.
Better Functioning Immune System: The immune system is also known as the lymphatic system. The immune system’s function is to help protect the body from illness and disease.
Parts of the immune system that may be affected by the health of the circulatory system include the lymph nodes and white blood cells. There are many types of white blood cells, which are made by bone marrow. These cells help the body fight infection and disease. (25) Lymph nodes are where white blood cells are stored in the body. (26)
Having healthy circulation allows the cells and other substances that are part of the immune system to move freely throughout the body. (27) So maintaining healthy circulation could lead to a boost in the function of the immune system.
Dangers of an Unhealthy Circulatory System
Cold hands and feet are just one of the ways poor circulation can interfere with your life.
An unhealthy circulatory system can lead to many health problems. Risks of poor circulation include heart disease and heart attack. Poor circulation can also harm the health of other tissues of the body.
- Heart Disease: Heart disease is one of the major risk factors of an unhealthy circulatory system. In fact, more Americans die of heart disease each year than from any other common disease. (28)
- Heart Attack: One common and sometimes deadly result of heart disease is experiencing a heart attack. Your heart must have oxygen to function. A heart attack is the result of oxygen to the heart being cut off. (29)The circulatory system ensures that the heart gets the oxygen that it needs. This is one reason why the health of the circulatory system is essential to the overall health of the heart.
- Heart attacks are quite common among Americans. An American has a heart attack about every 40 seconds. (30)
- Other Illnesses: A compromised immune system can result in other diseases taking hold of the body, as well as difficulty in overcoming those diseases.
5 Ways to Support a Healthy Circulatory System
There are many things you can do to ensure that your circulatory system stays in top condition. Many of them are things that are commonly recommended for maintaining general good health.
1. Avoid smoking
It has been known for a long time that the use of nicotine products can have a negative effect on a number of the body’s systems and overall health. Smoking can harden arteries and thicken blood, making circulation difficult. (31)
2. Drink Water
Blood is made up mostly of water, so keeping hydrated is essential for healthy circulation. (32) If you are exercising a lot, be sure to increase the amount of water you drink in order to compensate for what you will lose through sweat from working out. (33)
3. Stand More Often
Sitting for too long is bad for circulation. (34) If you work in a sedentary job or generally spend a lot of time sitting down, make it a habit to stand more.
4. Try Yoga or Aerobic Exercise
It is well known that aerobic exercise is good for the heart. Experts recommend shooting for 30-minute workouts, 5 to seven days out of the week at a moderate to intense pace. (35)Not only is relaxation good for improving circulation, but the twists and turns of yoga actually help increase blood flow to the organs. (36)
5. Maintain a Healthy Diet
A diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in salt and saturated fat is best. (37) Work with your doctor to make sure that you maintain a healthy weight, blood pressure levels, and cholesterol. (38)
The circulatory system is very important for maintaining the human body’s health and function. Healthy circulation plays a role in keeping nearly every part of the body functioning properly. Taking steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward maintaining a healthy circulatory system and avoiding the negative effects that an unhealthy circulatory system can have on the body. Having a healthy circulatory system can help us feel more energetic and to lead more active lifestyles.
- A healthy circulatory system is essential to the health and function of the human body in general.
- Maintaining a healthy circulatory system can contribute to individuals leading a more active lifestyle.
- Making healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain a healthy circulatory system.
- Diet and exercise are key to a healthy circulatory system.
- Consulting your healthcare provider can be helpful in developing a plan for getting your circulatory system health on track.
- The human circulatory system, which includes the heart and lungs, is a very complicated system. This article covers some basics of the system, but further reading may be needed to fully understand how the system and all of its parts work.