Our hearts are at the core—of our bodies, of our health, of life itself—and even part of our language in phrases such as “the heart of the matter.” So are you curious about this vital organ that’s only the size of your fist? Our quiz is a fun way to learn what’s normal…what’s not…and how to keep your ticker healthfully ticking.
A normal, healthy resting heart rate—when you’re at rest, sitting or lying down, and emotionally calm—should be…
Normal resting heart rate is between 60 bpm and 100 bpm. However, a rate lower than 60 bpm doesn’t necessarily signal a medical problem. A trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 bpm. Some medications, such as beta-blockers, also reduce resting heart rate. However, a heart rate consistently higher than 100 bpm (called tachycardia) can either cause no symptoms or complications…or it can disrupt normal heart function and lead to heart failure, stroke or sudden cardiac arrest or death.
You don’t need to worry about discomfort that comes and goes in the center of the chest—most likely it’s just indigestion.
Most heart attacks involve center of the chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes…or that goes away and comes back. For both men and women, it can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain and is the most common symptom of a heart attack. However, women are more likely than men to also experience other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain.
You can tell when you have high blood pressure—you’ll feel nervous, sweat a lot, have difficulty sleeping, and your face will often be flushed.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is aptly named the “silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms. In fact, nearly half of all Americans have hypertension—systolic (top number) pressure above 120 mmHg and diastolic (bottom number) above 80 mmHg—and many of them don’t know it. Measuring it with a sphygmomanometer, either by yourself at home or at your doctor’s office, is the only way to tell whether you have hypertension.
An irregular heartbeat is rare and almost always a sign of an impending heart attack.
Abnormal or irregular heartbeats—when abnormalities in the heart’s electrical system cause it to beat too quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia) or erratically—are called arrhythmias, and they are extremely common, especially with age. Most are harmless. An arrhythmia can be too brief to be noticed or can cause a feeling of fluttering or “skipped” heartbeat. However, severe arrhythmias can affect the heart’s ability to pump and can cause symptoms such as light-headedness, fainting and even cardiac arrest or death. Seek medical attention immediately if your arrhythmia is accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath or chest pain.
Women’s hearts are normally smaller than men’s hearts.
Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna studied heart scans of more than 600 people without cardiac disease, ages 17 to 91, and found that gender, height, weight and age significantly affected heart size. Men’s hearts averaged 1.81 inches in diameter, while women’s averaged 1.61 inches—and a tall young man’s heart typically measured 1.98 inches, while a small elderly woman’s typically was only 1.47 inches. What prompted the study is that women and people with small builds who have enlarged hearts, potentially a serious medical condition, are at risk for not having their condition diagnosed and treated. Based on data from the study, the researchers were able to devise a calculator for health practitioners to use to determine whether patients’ hearts are normal size for them. (You might want to let your own doctor know about it!)
Menopause speeds up your heart rate.
Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause can trigger an elevated heart rate and palpitations—a feeling of fluttering or pounding—for some women. Although palpitations can be disconcerting, they’re common, usually harmless and a normal part of aging—and not a sign of a problem with the heart’s electrical system (as with arrhythmia). In rare cases, though, heart palpitations can be a symptom of a more serious heart condition that may require treatment. So you should tell your doctor if you have heart palpitations—and hopefully he/she will tell you that you’re fine!
If your blood pressure is above 130/80, you’ll automatically need medication.
Blood pressure that is between 130 mmHg and 139 mmHg systolic (the top number) and between 80 mmHg and 89 mmHg diastolic (the bottom number) is considered hypertension stage 1—which is not necessarily treated with medication. Doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes for this stage of high blood pressure. If lifestyle changes don’t get numbers down into a healthy range…or if you are at hypertension stage 2 (levels of 140 mmHg/90 mmHg or higher), blood pressure medications are most often prescribed. However, even if you take blood pressure medications, it isn’t a reason to abandon a healthy lifestyle, which can still help!
Your heart normally slows down as you get older.
Maximum heart rate while exercising decreases with age even for fit, healthy older adults. So an older person exercising at a heart rate of 120 bpm is working harder than a younger person working out at 150 bpm. Here’s a calculator that computes target heart rates for exercise based on age for most healthy people. If you have a medical condition, check with your doctor to see what would be a good heart rate for you when exercising.