It’s the engine that keeps our body ticking, but just how well do you actually know your heart? These 15 facts are likely to surprise you about your heart health!
1. To start with, your heart isn’t located where you think!
Placing your hand on the left side of your chest might feel heartfelt – but you’re a little off course! The heart actually rests in the centre of your chest, right below the sternum. The heart is just slightly tilted to the left.
2. It’s packed with a whole lot of fuel (also known as blood vessels)
If you stretched out all of the blood vessels in your heart, they’d extend more than 60,000 miles long – enough to wrap around the world more than twice!(1)
3. And it’s extremely busy
Each day, your heart beats about 100,000 times, that’s up to 2.5 billion pulses over a 70-year lifetime.
4. Your heart is super fit
One heartbeat (the contracting and relaxing of your heart muscle) takes only 0.8 seconds.
5. With females’ hearts leading the pack
A woman’s average heartbeat is almost 8 beats a minute faster than a man’s(2).
6. Laughter is good for your heart
Laughter balances your stress hormones, reduces inflammation in your arteries and increases HDL or “good cholesterol”, which is beneficial for your heart’s health.
7. While sadness is not…
Heartbreak is a real thing and can be triggered by a sudden emotional event. Broken Heart Syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, occurs when surges of stress hormones (like adrenaline) cause a part of the heart to temporarily enlarge, reducing its pumping power. In severe, extremely rare cases, Broken Heart Syndrome can be fatal.
8. Sadness as a kid can hurt your heart health years later
Childhood trauma can boost lifelong levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to heart troubles later in life(3).
Read how exercise can help with depression and sadness
9. Having a dog has heart-boosting benefits
Several studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners – likely because dogs have a calming effect on their owners (something that also improves stress management) and people with dogs tend to get more exercise. There is also some evidence that owning a dog is associated with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels(4).
10. And bigger isn’t always better
A larger heart muscle doesn’t mean greater pumping power – if fact, it’s often the sign of a problem. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition linked with the abnormal thickening of the heart muscle and dangerous implications for the heart(5).
11. Time won’t heal your heart’s wounds
Unlike other organs and tissues in your body, the heart can’t heal its self from damage, so any trauma may leave your heart with permanent scars. This is one of the reasons why fast treatment for a heart attack is so important.
12. Your heart is pro-environment
Studies show that more hospitalisations for heart problems occur on days with higher levels of large air particles and serious heart attacks strike more people who already have heart disease on days with poor air quality(6)(7).
13. Booze makes your heart happy – but only in moderation
Alcohol – especially red wine – contains antioxidants and a compound called resveratrol, so drinking it in moderation (up to two drinks per day) may protect your heart against artery damage. While two glasses of wine may be good for your heart, binge drinking regularly places your heart in serious danger. Here are 15 ways to give up alcohol for a month.
14. Stepping up a shoe size can be a red flag for your heart health
When your heart starts to fail, your body retains water, causing swelling in your legs and feet. This can result in your shoes fitting tighter. Always speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about unexplained swelling.
15. Signs of a heart attack may not be chest pain
Most heart attacks begin with symptoms far more subtle than crushing chest pain. Signs to look out for include heartburn – like tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea or pain in the jaw or arm.