The discreet charm of the heartbeat

If you try to google the word “heartbeat”, the popular search engine has access to as many as 79 million pages. 79 million results to explain one of the most fundamental and natural knowledges in anatomy, even inherent if we consider that feti are able to modulate their heartbeats based on those of their mothers. Eurofilo, the first anatomist of history, was the one who correlated the heartbeat to the vital beat and so, in synthesis, with life itself. It was 300 before Christ.

It is one of our vital functions, therefore ancient as life, still nobody has fully understood it yet.

Since then the heartbeat has continued to exert an incommensurate charm on everyone. Especially on artists: in fact, the first results of that Google research return movies, songs, albums and paintings titles. A sort of (positive) collective heartbeat psychosis. It is simple to wonder the reason for this role in the collective imaginary. On the one hand, as mentioned, the heartbeat is strictly linked to the concept of life, on the other hand, to the concept of love.

Heart, heartbeat and changes

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In February 2013, a study by the University of California revealed that the hearts of two people in love can beat in unison, "one of the partners, usually women, adapts his heartbeat to that of the other", said Emilio Ferrer, one of the research leaders. This result followed in a few years the one from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, which had instead established that watching a friend subjected to stressful situations leads to the modulation of our heartbeat in the same pace of his own. It is peculiar that love, or affection in general, causes the heart function contrary to the medical standards of good health. Our heartbeats should always be regular, restrained, yet when falling in love, when we lay eyes on that wonder, the brain sends a message to the adrenal gland that secretes hormones like adrenaline, epinephrine and norepinephrine which increase the beats of your heart.
It doesn't sound very romantic, but it is indeed the prerequisite for romanticism.
Different emotions are associated with different patterns of cardiac variations,reflects a particular emotional state In 2012 Danielle Gotell tried to show them all in his work "Impulse". Gotell was, at the time, an emerging video artist, and with "Impulse" she wanted to allure people into speaking out with their very cardiac muscle. Through a multimedia and interactive installation, "Impulse" invited passers-by to interact with the display. The physical contact allowed the sensors to draw the vital actions of the human body and to amplify the information it unconsciously provides. The amazement, the incredulity, the pleasure of discovery, are all elements that contribute to what is called "physiological coherence" that is a pattern of ordered and harmonious physiological activity, generated during the experience of sustained positive emotions.

Between heart and sport

The increase in vagal activity has always been considered to be at the base of bradycardia, the socalled athlete's heart, which allows to slow down the heartbeat and, in short, to manifest less the sport effort. It was the secret of Fausto Coppi, for example, whose heart seemed to beat less than 40 times per minute. However, a recent research conducted between Manchester and Milan has shown how it is actually the "funny" current (between the cardiac iodic channels) to generate that effect and, in general, to regulate the modulation of the heart of sportive individuals.
It is the technical component that goes hand in hand with the mental and emotional one, much more romantic yet not lacking substantiality, according to which the control of the heart and its performances depends essentially on a type of psychological exercise. An old story, one about the control of one's own body, which encompasses something ancestral, something primordial. Not for nothing, the first thing we do is moving, requiring the heart to beat and pump blood.

Running, and therefore the solicitation of the heartbeat, stimulates neurogenesis, which until a few years ago was thought possible only in the age of physical growth.

New Yorker interview with the clinical neuropsychologist Karen Postal summarized years of questions about why (almost) all writers liked to jog.
Sport, hence, changes your life, but above all it can change the shape, structure and functional capacity of the heart muscle in order to favour the warming-down after the activity, in a virtuous spiral that, statistics in hand, makes you live more. But the relationship between sport and heartbeat transcends from simple primary physical activity, becoming something extremely intense while cheering. Several studies, one in Japan and one in Canada, for instance, highlighted the increase of cardiac activity during the vision of competitions (especially during a match between two teams). It is the result of emotional involvement, of the intense neuropsychological activity.
If it is now universally accepted that a good physical condition (deriving from taking good care of our body) leads to an optimal cardiac activity, recently attention have shifted towards the beneficial aspects of positive emotions. A research published in the journal of the Association of Psychological Sciences showed for the first time how the connection between positive emotions and well-being essentially comes from social connection. Developing empathy produces an increase in vagal tone which, as a result, slows down and harmonizes the heartbeat making us feel better. What lies behind this discovery is therefore the fact that, as social animals, we have a need of interactions and connections. Something that, in the digital era, is not necessarily easy to achieve, but that is as indispensable as the much well-known physical activity. We need to be surprised, to laugh, to fall in love, we need to feel part of something. Our heartbeat, our heart, and ourselves eventually, will be thankful.
The role of technology and evolution, however, is anything but negative. One of the most widespread conceptions in digital literature sees technology as something absolutely neutral, whose application defines its social connotations. In recent years, big data has allowed to collect an infinite amount of data through the most diverse accessories, from smartwatches to sensors like Polar. Treating this data means having access to empirical methods for the safeguard of our heartbeat, a novelty that Erofilo could not even have imagined. With this intention, Jen Lowe, data scientist at Columbia University, launched in 2014 "One Human Heart", a site where his heartbeats are projected with a latency of 24 hours. He had the idea when he realized that instead of trying to regulate his anxiety with his brain, he had to do that with his body and, in particular, with his heart.
The inspiration to the research that the heartbeat induces in a transversal way, from art, to medicine and science, is yet another testimony of the desire to learn to better know the human body, to govern it, instruct it and exploit it to the fullest. It’s a mirage, however. One that would better stay so, one which spares us the possibility to be surprised with the heart that beats feverishly at the sight of all that moves us, or one which leaves the heartbeat to assume the most incredible shades each time we come face to face with things we don’t know yet their name, those which can be rendered within the concept of discovery, and consequently, of life.

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