How much do you know about your heart? February is American Heart Month, and now is a great time to learn a little bit more about the all-important organ that keeps you going each day. We’ve all got one, after all, so it’s never a bad idea to get informed about what it does for us and what we can do to keep it healthy. Here are 10 fun facts you might not know about your heart.
1. Your heart is big. You may have heard your heart is about the size of your fist — and it’s true. With its lower tip pointed slightly to the left in your chest cavity, your ticker takes up about the same space as a clenched hand would. Interestingly, your left lung is actually smaller than your right to accommodate the size and position of the heart.
As for weight, men’s and women’s hearts differ significantly. In women, the average heart weight falls around 245 grams, or nine ounces, while in men, the average heart weighs in around 300 grams, or 11 ounces. And it’s not a good thing to have a “heavy heart” — emotionally or physically. An enlarged heart is usually a sign of cardiovascular disease.
2. Size matters (for speed). There’s a rule of thumb when it comes to the speed of the heart in the animal kingdom: The bigger the heart, the slower it beats, and vice versa. Therefore, the tiniest animal hearts beat lightning-fast (a hummingbird’s reaches up to 1,200 beats per minute). A blue whale heart, on the other hand, beats only eight to 10 times per minute.
3. There’s a range for a healthy heart rate. While hummingbird hearts race and whales’ plod along, what’s normal for a human? The American Heart Association (AHA) says a healthy heart rate typically falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute. But if you find that yours dips lower than this range, that doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem. In fact, it could be a sign you’re in good shape. Aerobic activity conditions your heart to be more efficient, allowing it to beat fewer times per minute.
4. The beat goes on… and on. Add up those 60 to 100 beats per minute over the years and you’re bound to get a staggering number over the course of your lifetime. Using an average of 80 bpm, you could reach over three billion beats if you live to age 80!
Oh, and if you’ve heard the offbeat (pun intended) theory that each individual is only allotted a certain number of heartbeats in life, don’t fall for it. According to medical experts, this is a myth.
5. It’s a major muscle. In a manner of speaking, your ticker is simply a large muscle. It’s made up of cardiac muscle tissue, found — true to its name — only in the heart. So, just like any other muscle in the body, it requires exercise to stay toned. Toward this end, the AHA recommends striving for a target of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
6. There’s a tell-tale heart sound. If you’ve ever listened to your heart (or someone else’s) through a stethoscope, you’ve heard the classic “lub-dub” sound of its beat. Inside the heart, valves open and close like doors to pump blood to and from the rest of the circulatory system. The sound you hear is essentially the closing of these “doors.”
7. Gotta keep ‘em separated. Biology class may have taught you that the heart is made of four chambers, separated into two sides. Interestingly, these two sides perform two different jobs. The left side receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs, then pumps it out to the far-flung corners of the body for delivery. The right side then receives de-oxygenated blood back from the body and pumps it to the lungs to get refilled. You might picture it like a duplex that keeps inhabitants separated by a central wall.
8. There are foods that are good for your heart. When it comes to eating for heart health, one diet consistently tops the list. The Mediterranean Diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and olive oil, ranks as US News and World Report’s number one heart-healthy diet for 2019. Find out more about the diet here and how this traditional eating plan promotes cardiovascular wellness.
9. What actually IS a heart attack? Pop quiz: What actually happens during a heart attack? Don’t know? Don’t feel bad. One survey found that 75 percent of Americans were uninformed on the topic. The short version is that a blockage in the arteries — caused by smoking, poor diet, or a number of other factors — prevents oxygenated blood from reaching the heart. When this happens, a portion of the heart muscle begins to die. The body responds by sending distress signals that result in the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
10. Heart attack and stroke are related. Stroke and heart attack might seem like two totally different medical emergencies. One affects the brain, the other, the heart — with very disparate symptoms. Why do medical experts always lump them together? Both the heart and the brain require oxygen to live and function. So just like deprivation of oxygen-rich blood causes a heart attack, a stroke occurs when blood vessels in the brain can’t deliver oxygen due to a blockage.
Got more to add to the list? Share your heartfelt knowledge with us on Twitter at @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)
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