March 4 – The Tell-Tale Heart

Today’s factismal: A typical human heart moves about a third of a cup of blood through the body with each beat.

Ah, the human heart. Often derided as being frail and fragile, it is in fact one of our sturdiest organs. And no wonder, considering all of the trouble that we put it to. During a typical day, an adult’s heart will beat around 100,000 times. A kid’s heart works even harder; they will beat nearly 150,000 times each day! Add it up and over the course of a typical lifetime, a human heart will beat nearly 2.5 billion times.

Leonardo da Vicni's drawing of the human heart (Image courtesy Leonardo)

Leonardo da Vicni’s drawing of the human heart
(Image courtesy Leonardo)

The heart works so hard because it has to. The heart drives the circulatory system that delivers food and oxygen throughout the body and takes wastes and carbon dioxide away to be disposed of. The blood tissue will speed from your heart to your brain and back in just eight seconds; to reach your toes and get back takes just 16 seconds. Though you’ve got just about one and a half gallons of blood in your body, it is used over and over again. Each beat of an adult’s heart moves about a third cup of blood. Over the course of a day, your heart will pump nearly 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body.

But anything that works that hard can sometimes have problems and the heart is no exception. Sometimes the valves in the heart wear out or just don’t close properly, allowing blood to leak through and reducing the flow; this is called valvular heart disease. Sometimes the heart loses its rhythm and beats irregularly; this is called an arrhythmia. Sometimes the heart doesn’t get enough blood to operate properly; this is called a myocardial infarction or “heart attack”.

Luckily, we know a lot about how to prevent these things from happening. If you get as little as thirty minutes of exercise (such as walking) each day, you’ll cut your chances of getting one of these problems by about 10%. Similarly, by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lean in alcohol and salt, you can reduce your chances of getting heart disease by nearly 20%.

Of course, there is more to having a healthy heart than just diet and exercise; genetics and other factors also play a part. And right now, a group of scientists are putting together a “big data” experiment to see just how much each of these things contributes to a healthy heart. At Health eHeart (get it?) they are asking for volunteers to take part in a study that will track participants for ten years. Every six months they’ll ask you to fill out a questionnaire on your health and will ask you to contribute information on your weight and activity level; some participants may also be given the opportunity to do cool things like wear a Holter monitor for a week or have a genetic sample taken. To join in on the fun, head over to:

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