February is the month of love, and we see the signs of that everywhere. Heart shapes line supermarket aisles, decorate television ads and fill candy boxes throughout the month. So it’s no surprise that the American Heart Association has named February the American Heart Month.
Matters of the heart have baffled humans since the dawn of time, with sonnets and entire books devoted to the meaning of love. Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered that the incredible pumping muscle, our heart, is as complex as any literary tale. You can’t live or love without it & this month, we’re getting to the heart of the matter! Prepare to be amazed as we share a few fascinating facts about this amazing, pumping muscle — the heart!
Matters of the Heart
This Valentine’s Day, millions of people will exchange heart-shaped gifts of all kinds, from candy to cards. But did you know that the human heart does not actually look like the typical valentine shape? Our body’s pumping machine is actually shaped like a tiny cone. Take a minute to make a fist with each of your hands, now, bring them together – this is the average size of your heart. While an adult heart is the size of two clenched fists, the size of a child’s heart equals the size of one child’s clenched fist.
In the United States, children are taught to place their hands over their hearts when pledging allegiance to the flag. Most people have heard that the heart is on the left side of the chest. In reality, the heart is in the middle of the chest, tucked snugly between our two lungs.
Weighing in at 10 ounces, the blood-filled muscle called the heart has become the universal symbol of love. The Greeks believed the heart was the seat of the spirit, the Chinese associated it with the center for happiness and the Egyptians thought the emotions and intellect arose from the heart. While there are many theories on the origins of the romantic heart shape, the most widespread is that it derived from the Silphium plant found in the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. Now extinct, this medicinal plant grew to be extremely valuable in ancient civilizations providing relief from many ailments including warts, leprosy, fever, indigestion & more.
Alas, a broken heart can cause one to swoon. Whether it’s a result of ending a relationship or losing a loved one – extreme stress or crisis can literally lead to a broken heart. Such trauma can also trigger the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream that temporarily “stun” the heart. The resulting symptoms mimic those of a heart attack – chest pain and shortness of breath – but this type of achy heart can bounce back over time with some TLC and rest.
The average heart beats 72 times per minute. In under a minute, your heart can pump blood to every cell in your body. Over the course of today, your ticker will experience about 100,000 heart beats, shuffling more than 2,000 gallons of oxygen-rich blood through the body.
It takes your blood about ten seconds to get from your heart to your big toe and back. In fact, the average heart has to push blood through about 60,000 miles (96,560 kilometers) of blood vessels—that’s long enough to circle the Earth two and a half times! To give a little perspective on how incredible this is, the force behind the average heartbeat could shoot blood upwards of 30 feet.
We Got The Beat
All that pumping takes a lot of effort. The body has about 5.6 Liters of blood–and all that blood is pumped (and circulated) about 3 times per MINUTE! If you listen closely, you will hear the heart making a ‘lub’ and ‘dub’ sound. This is caused by the heart valves’ opening & closing.
Did you know that the heart even has its own electrical impulse? This means that as long as your heart is supplied with oxygen, it can continue beating even if separated from the body.
LOL: It’s Good for You
A hearty laugh – the kind that sends a stream of tears from your eyes – does more than warm the soul. Research has shown the guffaw can cause the lining of blood vessel walls called endothelium to relax, sending 20% more blood through your entire body. That’s no laughing matter…or maybe it is… Laugh through a funny movie – and your heart will thank you!
A seemingly sheepish look from Fido or that endearing brush-by from your cat can make you wonder if your pet could possibly communicate with you. But science shows that our pets can help eliminate stress which leads to better health overall, including heart health. But is there more to puppy-love than we first thought? A recent study has added our longtime equine friends, horses, to the growing list of emotionally-responsive animals. Research has found that a horse’s heart rate will actually mirror the heart rate of the human that is touching them. Scientists are excited about this discovery & hope that someday it can be used as a way to measure a persons stress hormones.
A love-torn heart can be painful enough to make you wish you could get a new heart or at least a cardio repair kit. Both of the latter options could some day be realities. Scientists are studying the red-spotted newt to help them develop cell therapies for humans with physically damaged hearts. This amphibian can turn its cells back in time, as if they were stem cells, in order to build up new heart muscle.
Protect Your Heart
Each year, organizations like the American Heart Association, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and the CDC team up for American Heart Month to remind us that heart disease is both prevalent and deadly in the United States. Because the heart is the most important muscle in the body, it’s important to treat your heart with care so that it can continue to do its job!
If you already exercise regularly, eat a nutritious diet full of heart-healthy foods and keep stress levels in check, you’re on the right path toward a tip-top ticker… Here are some great, FUN ways to keep a healthy heart:
In addition to watching what you eat, physical activity each day can help prevent heart disease. Whether you park further away from the entrance to a store or implement a new workout routine, every little bit can help!
During American Heart Month, thousands of volunteers visit their friends and neighbors. The ultimate goal of American Heart Month is to raise funds for research and education and pass along potential life-saving information about heart disease and stroke. Learn more about National Heart Month & how you can get involved with these great resources:
Kids Health: How The Body Works – Find Quizzes, Word Finds, Fun Articles, Interactive Videos & more!