Heart Health

This just in: Exercise is good for you

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

If you are trying to follow the recommended guidelines for physical activity, the best way to spend your time may be running, but a study of commuters found that those who walked or bicycled to work also had lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

This is your brain on alcohol

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Moderate drinking may have negative long-term effects on the brain’s health, but as yet the research is inconclusive, and must be weighed alongside the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption benefits the heart. If you’re a moderate or light drinker trying to decide whether to cut back for health reasons, you probably want to consider a variety of factors.

Fainting: Frightening, but seldom serious

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

While frightening, fainting is not always serious, though it’s important to be aware that it may be a sign of an underlying problem with the blood vessels or heart.

Sticking to a low-salt diet when eating out

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

People concerned about sodium intake should be careful when dining out, as many restaurant meals are loaded with salt, and it’s not just the fast-food places that are guilty of this.

Biking to work linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and early death

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A five-year study of more than a quarter of a million commuters in the United Kingdom found that those who commute to work by bicycle had lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, or of dying from any cause.

Of all the flavors in the world, we choose salty — and that’s not good

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The average American consumes three times the recommended daily intake of sodium, largely because of salt added to processed and prepared foods. It’s possible to reduce daily sodium intake, but it does require effort and vigilance.

Run for your (long) life

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

A large, long-term study confirms that running decreases a person’s overall risk of death, and while the benefits from other forms of physical activity are not as significant, any activity is still better than none.

Over-the-counter pain relievers and your heart

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

As the evidence mounts linking use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with increased risk of heart failure or cardiac arrest, consumers need to be aware of the risks involved in taking these medications.

Could you have a heart attack and not know it?

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Not everyone who has a heart attack experiences chest pain. Sometimes pain is felt elsewhere, or the person has non-pain symptoms such as dizziness or nausea, or a higher pain tolerance could mean a person is unaware that an attack is happening. Nonclassic symptoms tend to occur slightly more frequently in women and older people.

Cracking the coconut oil craze

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

The health benefits of coconut oil remain unproven and there is no evidence that consuming it lowers the risk for heart disease. Results of studies of populations in parts of India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Polynesia who consume large amounts of coconut must be tempered with the fact that these traditional diets include more healthful fish, fruits, and vegetables than the typical American diet. That said, it’s fine to enjoy foods prepared with coconut oil provided they are occasional treats.