Heart Health

The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. This steady flow carries with it oxygen, fuel, hormones, other compounds, and a host of essential cells. It also whisks away the waste products of metabolism. When the heart stops, essential functions fail, some almost instantly.

Given the heart's never-ending workload, it's a wonder it performs so well, for so long, for so many people. But it can also fail, brought down by a poor diet and lack of exercise, smoking, infection, unlucky genes, and more.

A key problem is atherosclerosis. This is the accumulation of pockets of cholesterol-rich gunk inside the arteries. These pockets, called plaque, can limit blood flow through arteries that nourish the heart — the coronary arteries — and other arteries throughout the body. When a plaque breaks apart, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Although many people develop some form of cardiovascular disease (a catch-all term for all of the diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels) as they get older, it isn't inevitable. A healthy lifestyle, especially when started at a young age, goes a long way to preventing cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes and medications can nip heart-harming trends, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, in the bud before they cause damage. And a variety of medications, operations, and devices can help support the heart if damage occurs.

Heart Health Articles

Choosing oils for cooking: A host of heart-healthy options

For cooking and baking, people should choose a fat that’s liquid instead of solid at room temperature. Heart-healthy choices include olive oil as well as other plant-based oils, such as canola, sunflower, safflower, and soybean. These oils contain mainly unsaturated fats, which includes both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. In 2018, the FDA approved a new qualified health claim for oils containing at least 70% oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat. The claim cites supportive evidence that eating about 1½ tablespoons of high-oleic acid oils daily may lower coronary disease risk, but only if it replaces fats and oils higher in saturated fat. (Locked) More »

Lessons about brain health from a landmark heart study

The Framingham Heart Study—the longest running and best-known study of the causes of heart disease—has also revealed important clues about brain disorders, including stroke, cognitive decline, and dementia. In addition to linking high blood pressure with a higher risk of stroke, the study has confirmed that atrial fibrillation and an enlarged left ventricle contribute to stroke risk. The multigenerational study has also affirmed the importance of exercise and social connections for staving off cognitive decline. (Locked) More »

Spring training: How to move from couch to 5K

A couch-to-5K program is a free or low-cost coaching plan designed to help would-be runners complete a 3.1-mile race. People should get their doctor’s approval before starting this regimen, especially if they have or are at risk for heart disease. For older or less fit people, a more gradual training program may be more appropriate. Also, many 5K races encourage walkers to participate, so people don’t necessarily have to run the race. In addition to providing structure and motivation to exercise more regularly, these races may also offer a way to support your local community or favorite charity. (Locked) More »

Time-sensitive clues about cardiovascular risk

When a person’s behavior or environment is out of sync with their internal clock, it’s known as circadian misalignment. This phenomenon may explain why heart attack rates rise on Monday mornings and the week after daylight savings time begins. Certain habits such as late-night eating or light exposure into the wee hours can also throw the body’s natural rhythms out of whack, which may affect cardiovascular risk factors. (Locked) More »

What is labile hypertension?

Labile hypertension is a condition marked by blood pressure readings that fluctuate far more than normal. It has many possible causes, including too much caffeine, anxiety, and stress, or the use of pain relievers known as NSAIDs. (Locked) More »

Why worry about your waistline?

Growing numbers of Americans now have abdominal obesity (as measured by a large waist size), which puts them at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Abdominal fat (also known as visceral fat) pads the organs and is more likely to lead to unfavorable changes in blood sugar and other heart risk factors. Some people are predisposed to larger midsections because of their sex, genes, or ethnicity. But a reduced-carbohydrate diet that avoids added sugar, white flour, and starchy foods may help; so can intermittent fasting and regular exercise. (Locked) More »