The human heart is an organ that pumps blood throughout the body via the circulatory system, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and removing carbon dioxide and other wastes. You know you can’t live without your heart’s daily thud-thud. But did you know that it will beat more than 2.5 billion times in your lifetime?
Here, 27 more fascinating facts about the engine that powers your entire body.
1. YOUR HEART WEIGHS LESS THAN A CAN OF SODA
Your heart is about the size of two fists and weighs 0.28Kg or 283grams or slightly less than a can of soda. Each valve—the parts that open and close to allow blood to flow in and out—is about the size of a 5 euro .
2. YOUR HEART IS AN OVERACHIEVER
Your heart is about the size of two fists and weighs between about 280 to 340 grams, or slightly less than a can of coca cola. Each valve—the parts that open and close to allow blood to flow in and out—is about the size of a 5 euro note. Each day, your heart beats about 100,000 times. Over a 70-year lifetime, that adds up to 2.5 billion pulses.
3. A POOR WORKOUT MAY SIGNAL A HEART PROBLEM
Your workouts not only boost your heart health, they can also serve as your body’s “check engine” light. If you spend a few sessions in a row struggling to run the same pace or complete the same circuit you usually do for no apparent reason, talk to your doctor. This could signal that your heart’s not quite pumping enough blood, which is an early sign of heart trouble, says Allan Stewart, M.D., director of aortic surgery and codirector of the valve center at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
4. THE BIG C WON’T STRIKE YOUR HEART
Heart cancer develops so rarely even the Mayo Clinic sees only about one case per year. That’s because heart cells stop dividing early, so cancer-causing mutations are less likely to occur. Still, that’s not to say that cancer elsewhere in your body can’t harm your heart. Other cancers can metastasize, or spread, to your heart. Plus, chemotherapy and other treatments for malignancies can damage its tissue.
5. BAD SEX IS A BAD SIGN FOR YOUR HEART
If you go to your doctor because you can’t get or maintain an erection, you’ll probably get a heart test, too. Erectile dysfunction serves as an early red-flag for heart problems. That’s because the tiny blood vessels in the penis can sustain damage before larger veins and arteries.
6. BUT SEX CAN SAVE YOUR HEART, TOO
Men who have sex twice a week or more appear less likely to develop heart disease than those get busy once a month or less, according to a study in the American Journal of Cardiology. Scientists think there may be two possible reasons behind the diminished risk: a good romp can count as a mini-workout, or frequent sex with the same partner is the sign of a solid, stress-relieving partnership—both of which are proven to improve heart health
7. LAUGHTER IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEART
Laughter balances your stress hormones, reduces inflammation in your arteries, and increases HDL or “good” cholesterol. These effects last at least 24 hours, according to the American Heart Association.
8. YOU CAN GAUGE YOUR HEART’S HEALTH WITH A TAPE MEASURE
For a quick check of your heart risk, wrap a tape measure around your waist. If it measures half your height or more—say, 88cm or greater for a 180cm guy—your middle makes you prone to problems, Dr. Stewart says. Fat stored in your gut—especially deep or visceral fat, the stuff surrounding your organs—secretes hormones and other compounds that boost your chances of heart disease.
9. BOOZE MAKES YOUR HEART HAPPY
Alcohol—especially red wine—contains antioxidants and a compound called resveratrol. So drinking it in moderation, up to two drinks per day and no more than 14 per week for guys, may protect your heart against artery damage.
10. TOO MUCH BOOZE HURTS YOUR HEART
While two glasses of wine helps your heart, binge drinking regularly places your heart in peril.College students who regularly downed more than four drinks in two hours sustained changes in their blood vessel cells that left them prone to hardened arteries, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. And that can eventually lead to heart attack.
11. YOUR HEART IS LIGHTNING FAST
One cardiac cycle—the contacting and relaxing of your heart muscle, or what we think of as a beat—takes about 0.8 seconds.
12. YOUR HEART ISN’T LOCATED WHERE YOU THINK
You might put your hand on the left side during the national anthem, but your heart actually rests in the center of your chest, right below your sternum. It’s just tilted slightly to the left, says UC San Diego cardiac electrophysiologist Amir Schricker, M.D.
13. FIXING YOUR HEART’S FLAWS MAY SOON BE PAINLESS
Doctors continue to develop minimally invasive treatments for heart disease, heart attacks, and related conditions. “Within a generation, the concept of cracking someone’s chest open to fix their heart is going to be something we look upon as barbaric,” Dr. Stewart says.
Even sooner—within two to three years—repairing your heart valves with a small incision and a thin wire called a catheter won’t even require a hospital stay, he notes.
14. THE LENGTH OF YOUR HEART’S BLOOD VESSELS IS STAGGERING
If you stretched out all your blood vessels, they’d extend more than 100,000Km long and wrap around the world more than twice.
15. YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW MUCH YOUR HEART PUMPS
You have about six quarts of blood in your body right now. During the average lifetime, your heart will pump about 1 million barrels of the stuff.
16. YOUR HEART IS ECO-FRIENDLY
More hospitalizations for heart problems occur on days with higher levels of large air particles, Johns Hopkins researchers found. And serious heart attacks strike more people who already have heart disease on bad air days, research from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute showed.
17. HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU THINK
Most heart attacks begin with symptoms far more subtle than crushing chest pain, Dr. Schricker says. Signs people often overlook include a heartburn-like tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, or pain in the jaw or arm.
18. YOUR FEET CAN SIGNAL AN IMPENDING HEART PROBLEM
Another cardiovascular red flag: stepping up a shoe size. When your heart starts to fail, your body retains water, causing swelling in your legs and feet, Dr. Stewart says. That may make your regular-size shoes feel too tight.
19. STETHOSCOPES MAKE EXAMINING YOUR HEART WAY LESS CREEPY
Doctors once had to put their ears directly on patient’s chest to hear their hearts. In 1816, a French physician named Rene Laennec rolled up a thick sheet of paper to create the first stethoscope, placing one end to his ear and the other to his patient.
A two-eared version similar to what doctors use today, made partly of natural rubber, was made in 1851.
20. SADNESS AS A KID CAN HURT YOUR HEART YEARS LATER
Childhood trauma can lead to heart problems down the line. For instance, children who have family members incarcerated have double the risk of heart attack later in adulthood, according to Virginia Tech and University of Toronto researchers. That may be because adversity in childhood boosts lifelong levels of the stress hormone cortisol, linked to heart troubles.
21. YOUR HEART CAN HAVE THE BLUES
Any sudden emotional event can trigger broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Surges of stress hormones like adrenaline can cause a part of your heart to temporarily enlarge, which reduces its pumping power. It’s different from a heart attack because it doesn’t involve blocked arteries—but in rare, severe cases, it can be fatal. The condition usually goes away on its own within a few weeks, but your doctor might prescribe medications like ACE inhibitors or beta blockers to take the load off your heart in the meantime.
22. SNEEZING WON’T STOP YOUR HEART
Your heart doesn’t stop when you sneeze, despite popular belief. (It’s rumored to be one of the reasons people say “God bless you” when you sneeze). The myth likely arose because changing pressure in your chest when you sneeze alters blood flow, creating the sensation of a skipped heartbeat.
23. YOUR HEART SPORTS SCARS
Unlike other organs and tissues in your body—say, like a cut on your skin or even a broken bone—the heart can’t heal itself from damage. That’s why fast treatment for a heart attack is key. Each minute that passes can leave more of your heart permanently scarred.
24. SCIENTISTS ARE LOOKING FOR WAYS TO HEAL YOUR HEART
Scientists have begun to figure out ways to repair and rebuild heart tissue that was damaged by a heart attack or heart defect. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have 3D-printed coronary arteries and embryonic hearts using soft proteins like collagens and fibrins. Other research teams have seen success with adult stem cells. Ideally, these regrown pieces of the heart would replace the damaged ones inside your body.
“I would say that within 20 years, we will be able to rebuild a human heart with someone’s own stem cells,” Dr. Stewart says.
25. BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
A larger heart muscle doesn’t equal better pumping power—in fact, it’s often the sign of a problem. Some people are born with abnormally large heart muscles, Dr. Schricker says. This condition, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, stands as the number-one reason athletes die suddenly of heart problem
26. EXTRA POUNDS HURT YOUR HEART AT ANY AGE
Signs of heart disease—including thickened muscle tissue—have been found in obese kids as young as age 8 by researchers at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania. Extra weight can weigh down their hearts early, boosting their odds of a cardiac event later in life—and an earlier death.
27. HUMAN HEART PROBLEMS CAN LEAD TO BETTER HEART HEALTH
Heart disease—or even heart surgery—shouldn’t bring your life to a halt. “I have about 25 guys who do triathlons and marathons together who are all patients of mine,” Dr. Stewart says. “With a couple of lifestyle modifications, you have the ability to perhaps live with better heart health than you ever had before because you used to take for granted how to live your life