23 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Your Heart

These astounding facts about your heart are sure to shock and surprise.

As you're reading this, blood is pumping from your heart throughout your entire body. Put your fingers on the inside of one wrist and you can feel the pulse of blood as it flows from your heart through your veins. But just how much blood is moving through your body, and how fast and far is it traveling? The answers to all those questions are actually quite surprising—there is a lot more blood traveling a lot faster than you could probably imagine. What other things about your heart will you find fascinating? How about the fact that broken hearts are a real thing or that your heart can actually survive outside your body (for a bit)? Read on for more astonishing facts about your heart. And for things that you need to stop doing for the good of your ticker, check out The 20 Worst Habits That Are Destroying Your Heart.

In an average lifetime, the human heart beats 2.5 billion times.

close up of doctor placing stethoscope on patient's chest

That's 35 million beats in a year, 100 thousand beats in a day, 4,167 beats per hour, and about 70 beats per minute. And for things you are doing that are putting this essential organ in jeopardy, check out 20 Ways You're Raising Your Risk of a Heart Attack Without Knowing It.

A woman's heart beats about 8 times more per minute than a man's.

Girl with fast heart rate

Women have hearts that are about two-thirds the size of a man's and a heart rate that averages 78 beats per minute. With a smaller heart that pumps less blood per beat, a woman's heart needs to beat faster to achieve the same output as a man's. Fetal heart rates are even faster—about 150 beats per minute. And for more things you should know about your physical well-being as you age, check out 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Should Know About Her Health.

Your heart pumps blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels.

Doctor checking blood pressure

That's more than two times the distance around Earth. On average, it takes only 45 seconds for blood to travel from your heart throughout the body's extensive roadmap of arteries, veins and capillaries.

Your heart pumps 1.5 gallons of blood a minute.

Man pushing a cart full of gallons of water

Over the course of one day, that works out to about 2,000 gallons of blood. During an average lifetime, the equivalent of 1 million barrels of blood will be pumped through every living tissue in your body. There are just a few parts of your body that don't have blood flow, including the corneas and cartilage. And for more incredible facts about the human anatomy, check out 33 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Your Own Body.

An adult heart is about the size of two hands clasped together.

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And a child's heart is about the size of a clenched fist. The blue whale's heart is roughly the size of an oil drum, and it's the largest in the world, weighing around 400 pounds. The smallest heart on Earth belongs to the fairy fly at just 0.2 millimeters long.

And it weighs less than a pound.

Heart balanced on scale of justice

This is typically true for both men and women. However, on average, men's hearts usually weigh a couple of ounces more than women's. Want to know how heavy your heart can weigh and still be considered "normal"? Use this tool provided by Northwestern Medical School.

The sounds that make up a heartbeat are called "lub" and "dub."

women's health issues

Those double beats are actually caused by the heart's four valves closing in succession during a cardiac cycle, which is one heartbeat. Not everyone has the lub-dub rhythm—heart murmurs and other heart conditions can create different sounds. And to learn how your body lets you know there's a problem, check out 30 Warning Signs Your Heart Is Trying to Send You.

A heartbeat lasts about 0.8 seconds.

timer held in hand for seconds minutes hours

Each beat consists of two cycles: the heart contracting in order to pump blood out to the lungs, organs, and other body systems—then, it immediately expanding to refill again. That's a lot of action for under one second.

Laughter is good for your heart.

Senior black man laughing with his two adult sons

When you laugh, you increase blood flow to your heart, improving circulation and reducing your risk of heart disease. Laughter also lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, and even burns calories.

Sex is good for your heart, too.

young white woman and young white man embracing with face masks

Like laughter, sex can be considered a healthy workout—strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart disease. Studies also show that people with active and fulfilling sex lives are less likely to experience a heart attack and more likely to live longer following a cardiac event. And for more helpful information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Sneezing doesn't cause your heart to stop.

Woman sneezing into a tissue or handkerchief

When you sneeze, your chest muscles tighten and blood flow to the heart decreases momentarily, causing its rhythm to adjust accordingly. Immediately after sneezing, there may be a noticeable delay before your heart's next beat, and that beat may feel stronger than usual, but despite popular belief, your heart never actually stopped beating. 

Your heart can continue to beat outside of your body.

Lower Heart Attack Risk

Each heartbeat is initiated within the heart itself, not from a brain signal or other external trigger. If provided with adequate oxygen, the heart can continue to beat even after being disconnected from the body. And when stored at the proper temperature (a cold one), a human heart can survive up to 4 hours on its own.

Red wine may be good for the heart.

woman drinking red wine

The antioxidants in red wine increase "good cholesterol" levels and can protect against cholesterol buildup. Resveratrol, which comes from grape skins, also helps to prevent blood clots. Several other foods like peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries contain heart-healthy resveratrol as well.

Chocolate is also heart-healthy.

Chocolate slices with fresh mint leaves on a dark slate, stone or concrete background.

Specifically dark chocolate, which is at least 70 percent cocoa. It's rich in antioxidants, which reduce blood pressure and inflammation, decreasing your risk of heart disease. Moderation is key, though: too much chocolate will outweigh any benefits. 

Music can keep your ticker in tune.

Young Asian man listening to music and relaxing in his office

Listening to relaxing music has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rates, while also lessening anxiety. Some studies have even seen parts of the cardiovascular system synchronize with specific pieces of music.

Hearts aren't actually heart-shaped.

heart in hands

The heart shape that we recognize today goes back thousands of years, most often representing an ivy or fig leaf, with no connection to the human heart. Throughout history, though, these leaves have also been used to describe the appearance of our hearts, which is one theory as to how this shape came to be the go-to representation of the organ.

Your heart is located in the center of your chest.

woman with hand over her heart

Despite an American tradition to put the right hand over the left chest during patriotic displays like the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, the human heart actually sits closer to the middle of your chest, right between the lungs. Your left lung is slightly smaller than the right to make room.

Atrium is Latin for "entrance hall" and ventricle translates to "little belly."

Woman holding inside of heat medical model

The atrium makes up the heart's upper chambers, where blood enters. The left atrium receives oxygenated blood while the right receives deoxygenated blood. The ventricles make up the heart's lower chambers, which keep blood flowing throughout our bodies. Although both ventricles pump the same volume of blood, the right is one-third as thick as the left.

Your tongue can be an indicator of heart health.

Doctor Examining a Patient's Mouth Tongue Health

A healthy tongue is typically pale and red with a light white coating. But someone with heart disease will often have a noticeably redder tongue with a yellowish coating, especially toward the back. Correlations have also been made between poor oral hygiene and heart complications like heart disease.

More heart attacks occur on Mondays than any other day of the week.

man clutching chest having heart problems

This may be due to our tendency to stay up later on weekend nights and sleep in the next day, altering the body's circadian rhythm. When our alarm clocks go off on Monday morning, the body is forced to wake up earlier, which can lead to higher blood pressure, inflammation and changes in the nervous system—all risk factors for heart attacks.

More heart attacks take place on Christmas Eve than any other date.

festive calendar christmas eve

At 10 p.m. to be exact. The stress of the holidays, seasonal depression, and cold temperatures can all raise blood pressure and increase strain on the heart. So much so that people are 37 percent more likely to have a heart attack on Christmas Eve than any other day—followed by Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.

Heart attack symptoms can be very different for men and women.

Woman talking to her doctor

Although chest pressure is a symptom commonly experienced by both sexes preceding cardiac events, some women may have more subtle indicators, such as shortness of breath, lightheadedness, back pressure, and extreme fatigue. Oftentimes, these symptoms can be chalked up to the flu or other less life-threatening conditions, preventing women from getting proper care.

Broken hearts are a real thing.

Couple on a beach after a breakup fear of commitment

Also called "stress-induced cardiomyopathy," broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. Symptoms are often similar to a heart attack, including sudden chest pain, but with no physical blockage of the heart's arteries. And women are more likely than men to experience broken heart syndrome.

Adam Shalvey
Adam Shalvey is a writer based in Rhode Island. Read more
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