10 Crazy Cool Facts About Your Heart
Feb. 15, 2018
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Other than the occasional doctor’s visit, how often are you thinking about your heart? Considering the amount of work this pint-size muscle performs on a daily basis, it’s a wonder we don’t thank it by the minute. From the gallons of blood it pumps to the impact our emotions can have on it, here are some remarkable facts sure to renew your appreciation for that tireless ticker.
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Heart at Work
Beginning a mere four weeks after conception, the heart works ceaselessly (it doesn’t even pause when you sneeze, despite popular belief). From there, it beats about 100,000 times a day and 40 million times a year, depending on gender because a woman’s average heartbeat is faster than a man’s by eight beats per minute. This adds up to 3 billion heartbeats over the course of 75 years.
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If separated from the body, the heart will continue to beat because it has its own electrical supply. This is due to electrical impulses sent from the myocardium (the “muscle” of the heart), causing the heart to contract when signaled by the sinoatrial node at the top right atrium. The sinoatrial node is also referred to as the heart’s “natural pacemaker.”
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Though it may be small — weighing between seven and 15 ounces — the heart is mighty. It pumps about 100 gallons of blood through the body each hour. That’s enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses, which clocks in at 2,000 gallons each day. That means that over the course of 75 years the heart will pump about 1 million barrels of blood.
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Head to Toes
The heart pumps blood to all 75 trillion cells in the body (with the exception of the corneas). When the body is at rest, it takes only six seconds for the blood to go from the heart to the lungs and back; eight seconds for it to go to the brain and back; and 16 seconds for it to go from the heart to the toes and back again.
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Going the Distance
In just one day the heart pumps blood through 12,000 miles of vessels, which is four times the distance from New York to California. Even more incredible? If all of these vessels were placed end to end, they would extend about 60,000 miles, which is enough to circle the earth more than twice.
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Heart Disease Knows No Age
Heart disease — the biggest killer of Americans — is no longer reserved for the middle-aged and elderly. Research within the past couple of years has found that obese children as young as 8 years old are developing thickened heart tissue, a precursor to heart disease. Researchers stress the importance of increased physical activity to counteract these findings.
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Heartbreak Is Real
When you lose someone close to you, the emotional burden can take a physical toll on your heart. Stress cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome,” occurs when an emotionally stressful event induces symptoms of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath and chest pains. Another study found that those who have lost a partner also have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, or developing an irregular heartbeat, within the first year. The risk is especially high among younger people and if the loss was sudden or unexpected.
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Happiness Might Not Help
Interestingly, joyous occasions can likewise trigger “broken heart syndrome,” though it’s much more rare. A recent study in the European Heart Journal found that happy events like surprise parties or winning the lottery can put sudden stress on the heart — a condition that’s been dubbed “happy heart syndrome,” which appears to primarily affect postmenopausal women.
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Cold and Wind Are Hard on Your Heart
Physical exertion in cold or windy weather — even activities like shoveling or walking through the snow — can put a heavy burden on your heart as your internal body heat drops. The American Heart Association recommends wearing warm layers and to always don a hat in cold or windy weather to keep heat from escaping and prevent your heart from having to overcompensate.
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Heart Cell Phenomena
Heart cells stop dividing shortly after birth, reducing the risk of mutations. This is why heart cancer is so rare. However, because heart cells don’t regenerate, the heart is also unable to heal itself and will carry lasting scars from any heart damage. That said, emerging research is now finding that blood cells may be “reprogrammed” to act as heart muscle cells to regenerate a heart, which could reduce the need for heart transplants in the future.
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