9 Things You Didn’t Know About Heart Health
Your Heart Beats on Its Own
Crank up “Miss Independent,” ’cause your heart doesn’t need anyone—or anything—to do what it wants. While it of course needs oxygen and blood supply eventually, it can withstand operating on its own when needed. “When [the heart is] extracted from the body, there are specialized cells originating in the atria (the upper chambers of your heart) called the SA node,” explains Lien Do, MD. “Their job is to initiate the heartbeat, and they’re still able to work for a short period of time [without any other support from the body].” While it’s super cool, we’re going to suggest keeping your heart right where it belongs for as long as possible, mmk?
Broken Hearts Are Real
Think your friend is being overdramatic when it comes to her latest breakup? A British study suggests you might want to cut her some slack: Researchers found that 16 out of every 10,000 people surveyed had experienced strokes or heart attacks within 30 days of losing a partner, with the risk doubling for those over 60 years old. “We often use the term ‘broken heart’ to signify the pain of losing a loved one, and our study shows that bereavement can have a direct effect on the health of the heart,” says study coauthor Dr. Sunil Shah. This isn’t the first time that heart troubles have been linked to physical loss, either. The Mayo Clinic defines Broken Heart Syndrome (yep, it has an official name) as “a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one.”
So next time your girl’s feeling down, bust open a bottle of vino—research shows your heart loves it—and binge-watch every episode of Friends on Netflix.
Your Heart Knows Its Gender
While you and your guy may have proclaimed your relationship to be “two hearts beating as one,” science suggests otherwise. The adult male heart rate averages between 70 and 72 beats per minute, while an adult female averages 10 more beats per minute. Why? Women’s hearts are typically smaller, so they’re pumping less blood. To make up for it, a woman’s heart tends to beat faster to match the larger male heart’s output. Sorry, this is one area you just won’t find synchronicity in.
This Organ Is a Workaholic
Working overtime? Don’t count on any sympathy from your heart. “It never stops beating,” says Do. “At rest, it pumps 5 liters of blood per minute and, with exercise, up to 25 liters. In a lifetime, it can beat 2.5 billion times.” We’re exhausted just thinking about it.
A Drink a Day May Keep the Doctor Away
As if a heavy workload wasn’t incentive enough (stress can contribute to heart problems, too!), you may have a new reason to hit up happy hour after work. According to a recent European Heart Journal study, modest alcohol consumption (for example, a glass of wine a night) in early-middle-age adults may be associated with a lower risk of heart failure. But before you go bust out the brews, keep in mind that moderation is key. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically calls out excessive alcohol use as one of the top five lifestyle choices that can lead to heart disease. It’s all about balance.
It’s Your Biggest Risk of Death
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men, with coronary heart disease (its most common form) killing nearly 380,000 people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your prevention plan: The CDC suggests avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy diet (see: 5 Foods That Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease), and squeezing in 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
It Wants You to Bundle Up
Looks like you’re not alone when it comes to looking for winter warmth. There’s a higher rate of cardiovascular incidents in chillier months. “Cold temps activate the sympathetic system, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure,” Do says. When venturing out into frigid temps, make sure you’re dressed properly: “Staying warm (and active) is essential.”
Where You Live Matters
When’s the last time you consulted with your heart on a big move? Setting up camp in highly polluted areas can have a negative affect on your heart, according to a study from Environmental Health. “Pollution can cause blood vessels to overwork themselves, leading to inflammation and possible clot formation,” says Do. A recent State of the Air report, conducted by the American Lung Association, found that 4 in 10 people in the U.S. live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Visit stateoftheair.org to “compare your air” and look for areas that will keep your ticker happy.
Your Heart Isn’t Actually Red
It feels like the Valentine’s Day equivalent of telling you that Santa isn’t real, but the truth must come out: Your heart isn’t the color you think. “It’s not bright red like everyone imagines,” says Do. “The heart is encircled by a pericardium (a slippery sac around the heart that protects it and allows it to beat with ease), so if you were to open the chest and look, you would see this shiny whitish sac first. But the actual muscle is a more rusty color, like a maroon.” Oh, Valentine’s Day cards, how you’ve steered us wrong