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

Bad habits come in pairs

Couples often share health habits, whether good or bad, according to a recent study. When one partner doesn’t exercise regularly or eat a healthy diet, the other most often doesn’t either. Researchers found that in nearly 80% of cases, couples shared a high risk of developing heart-related problems because of shared risk factors. But the good news was that couples also seemed to influence each other in a positive direction. When one partner had good health habits, the other often did as well. (Locked) More »

Can meditation help your heart?

About 10% of American adults say they practice meditation, a mind- calming technique that may improve factors linked to cardiovascular health. Many forms slow down a person’s breathing rate, which may partly explain meditation’s ability to trigger physiological effects. These include lowering the heart rate and blood pressure. Similar meditative techniques such as guided imagery, tai chi, yoga, prayer, or even knitting can also induce those changes. (Locked) More »

Fruit of the month: Bananas

One of the most popular fruits in the United States, bananas are affordable and available year-round. They’re a good source of potassium, a mineral linked to lower rates of high blood pressure and stroke. More »

Migraine: A connection to cardiovascular disease?

People who get migraines with aura have a slightly higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease than people who get migraines without aura or no migraines. But migraines are most common in younger women, whose baseline risk of cardiovascular problems is very low in the first place. Still, those who get migraine with aura should be sure to tell their primary care provider or gynecologist. Taking estrogen-containing birth control pills or hormone therapy may further raise stroke risk in these women. More »

Omega-3 fats and your heart

Higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids—specifically, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plants—may help lower the odds of a poor prognosis in the years following a heart attack. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources of EPA. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are good sources of ALA, which is also found in soybean and canola oil. (Locked) More »

Put a song in your heart

Music’s mood-enhancing ability may have cardiovascular benefits. Listening to energizing music may help people exercise, while listening to calming music may help people before, during, and after heart-related procedures by reducing pain and anxiety. Certain songs (such as "Stayin’ Alive") can help bystanders responding to a cardiac arrest remember the correct rhythm for doing chest compressions. (Locked) More »

The benefits of brief bursts of exercise

Doing vigorous exercise for just 12 minutes triggers changes in blood levels of substances linked to cardiovascular health. The patterns of these substances may provide a way to gauge a person’s fitness level. More »

What is heart rate variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats. Low HRV is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, whereas people with high HRV tend to have higher fitness levels and be more resilient to stress. (Locked) More »