Did you know?
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.
1. YOUR HEART WEIGHS LESS THAN A CAN OF SODA
Your heart is about the size of two fists and weighs 10 ounces, 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 half-dollar.
2. YOUR HEART IS AN OVERACHIEVER
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.
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.
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 for 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, 35 inches or greater for a 5’10” guy—your middle makes you prone to problems, Dr. Janssen 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 contracting 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.
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 60,000 miles long and wrap around the world more than twice.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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. Janssen says.
19. 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. Janssen says.
This condition, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, stands as the number-one reason athletes die suddenly of heart problems.
Uncontrolled blood pressure or similar conditions can also enlarge your heart over time, increasing your risk of heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and other life-threatening issues.
20. HEART PROBLEMS CAN LEAD TO BETTER HEART HEALTH
Heart disease—or even heart surgery—shouldn’t bring your life to a halt.
Dr. Janssen 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.”