Its pace may quicken when under duress; it may slow in times of relaxation. It clocks in at 100,000 beats per day, and never stops.
Well, doing so likely translates to death.
At around 12 ounces, it weighs less than a shoe, yet pumps a daily 2,000 gallons of blood throughout the body. “It,” of course, is the heart.
February is National Heart Month, which means that now is the perfect time to show some love for one of the most pivotal and hard-working human organs.
Our very own fist-shaped motor is located just left of center in the thorax, or the chest. Flanked on either side by a lung, the heart enjoys VIP protection—by a flat, T-shaped bone called the sternum, and by a rib cage that envelops and shields from external threats.
The heart itself has four chambers, and each chamber plays its part in circulating blood through the body. The right atrium receives blood low in oxygen, which it then pumps to the right ventricle. The right ventricle then ships the blood to the lungs, where it can then refuel on oxygen.
The lungs pump the oxygen-happy blood to the left atrium. The left atrium then passes the blood on to the last station: the left ventricle. The powerful left ventricle pumps blood to the aorta (the largest artery in the human body), which, with the help of smaller arterioles and capillaries, delivers the oxygen that cells, tissues, and other organs need to function.
The heart together with its messengers (blood vessels, arteries, capillaries) make up the cardiovascular system. To understand the scale of this system: unravel each vessel, artery, and capillary, and put them on a straight line. That line, from end to end, would measure 60,000 miles—enough to wrap twice and then some around Earth.
National Heart Month is a reminder of the importance of a healthy heart. For a heart that is unhealthy often has deadly consequences: heart disease has been the leading cause of death worldwide for the past 80 years.
Heart disease can mean a variety of things (coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, etc.) but share a lot of the same symptoms: chest pain, fatigue, poor circulation in the extremities, high or low blood pressure. Study after study shows that a number of factors determines whether or not someone gets heart disease. Poor genetics, poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and alcohol top the list. These factors reflect the sad–yet hopeful—reality that deaths from heart disease are largely preventable.
So give your heart, that non-stop worker, a pat on the back! Put your hand on your chest and feel the beat, which is nothing less than the opening and the closing of the valves as they pump blood to (literally) every cell and organ in the body.
Happy Heart Month!