Is Bigger Better? An Enlarged Heart May Be Healthier for Women, Study Suggests

Valentine’s Day means a day full of heart, hugs, chocolate, and flowers. A big heart means more love and snuggles for your loved ones. New research, however, suggests that having an actual physically bigger heart can even be beneficial for women.

Published in JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging on February 13, the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute team discovered that middle-aged women with smaller hearts had lower cardiorespiratory function (CFR). The low cardiorespiratory function is linked with many health issues, including disability, heart failure, and early death.

Prior research and long studies involving athletes proved that there is a correlation between an enlarged heart and higher CFR. Associate Professor Andre La Gerche and the team proved that there is also a link between the smaller ventricles and lower CRF.

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The research revealed two important statements: "The first is that there is a strong positive relationship between ventricular size and CRF, and secondly, that there is diminished augmentation of cardiac function during exercise in those women with small cardiac size."

"In younger people, fitness is tested when having fun with friends. In middle-aged and older individuals, fitness defines your resilience to illness, operations and health challenges. You need to build your heart muscle when you are young to have the reserve to cope with challenges when older. Our hospitals are disproportionately weighted by people in whom modest illnesses push their hearts to their capacity. This is, at least in part, preventable."

In spite of the study results, La Gerche noted that everyone has the ability to increase heart size. Even though women with small ventricles had lower exercise ability and a restricted capacity, exercising can help to change the size of hearts by making the heart muscles thicker.

The team concluded: "For women in their middle age, one of the biggest risk factors of heart failure is fitness. So the key message from this study should be that young and middle-aged women need to exercise to make a difference to the size of their hearts and add years to their heart health bank."

According to the research team, additional studies are required to conclude the effects of small cardiac size on the risk of potential functional impairment and heart failure, particularly heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

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