When Heart Idioms Stop Being Cliche, and Start Getting Real

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You’re bound to hear plenty of mushy talk about hearts this week in the run up to Valentine’s Day. Not so much the kind that beats in your chest, but the more cliched variety, like how “big” your heart is.

As it turns out, there’s a lot more where that comes from. Hearts have made their way into some of the most overused phrases and sayings in the English language.

But if you look at these classic heart-related cliches a little more literally, there’s actually quite a lot of truth—albeit a bit more unexpected truth—at their hearts.

Have a Big Heart: Your philanthropic aunty might have a big heart when it comes to how much money she gives away to charitable causes each year, but it’s a speck compared to the blood-pumping organ of blue whales. Just last year, experts preserved a blue whale heart that weighed over 400 pounds and could pump 58 gallons of blood per second.

Heart Grows Fonder: Actually, it’s the fondness that’s growing, not the heart. But hearts can be grown—with some help from science. Researchers in a 2015 study were able to cultivate slowly beating heart “microchambers” in just 20 days by combining skin-derived stem cells with oxygen plasma.

Hungry Heart: Springsteen fans aren’t the only ones with hungry hearts. Pythons have the craving, too. So much so that their hearts nearly double in size after gorging on a massive meal—like an entire deer—to speed up the digestive process, and, as we like to think, because food is the way to every python’s heart (wink, wink).

Eat Your Heart Out: It’s impossible to eat your own heart (or a very bad idea at the least), but other hearts are fair game—and they’re healthy, too. Take beef heart, for instance. It’s packed with essential amino acids, has double the collagen and elastin of other cuts of beef and contains tons of an antioxidant known to boost energy levels and support the immune system.

Hearts Aflutter: If that sixth energy drink has your heart feeling like it’s about to beat right out of your chest, be glad you’re not a hummingbird. In order to pump enough oxygenated blood to support their fast-moving wings, their heart rates can reach up to 1,260 beats per minute, or 18 times that of the average human’s heart rate.

Heavy Heart: Men and women differ in many ways—their hearts included. The average man’s heart weighs 10 ounces compared to the 8-ounce heart of the average woman. But women’s hearts make up for their smaller size with speed, beating eight more times per minute than men’s.

Half-Hearted: Half a heart might not seem like enough, but those diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome make due. One out of every 4,344 babies born in the United States each year has underdeveloped left heart chambers. Fortunately, the condition is quite treatable with surgeries like the Norwood Procedure that restructure the abnormal hearts to allow for proper blood flow.