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

A heart-healthy diet doesn’t need to be low in fat

Over the past decade, nutrition experts have shifted away from recommending a low-fat diet to focusing more on an overall healthy dietary pattern. This eating style, which includes lots of plant-based foods, is naturally low in saturated fats. Found mainly in meat and dairy products, saturated fat can boost levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, a key contributor to heart disease. Cutting back on all types of fat does not necessarily translate into a diet that lowers cardiovascular risk. The plant-centric Mediterranean eating pattern, which is rich in healthy unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, and olives, has the best evidence for lowering heart disease risk. More »

Air pollution: An invisible threat to your heart

Exposure to microscopic particles called PM2.5 in air pollution may increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart rhythm disorders. The tiny particles pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and other cell-damaging processes. Air pollution comes mainly from coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles. To limit exposure, people should try to avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads or industrial areas. (Locked) More »

Beyond "bad" cholesterol: A closer look at your blood lipids

For assessing heart disease risk, a standard cholesterol test doesn’t always tell the whole story. Some people with "normal" LDL cholesterol levels might benefit from a test that measures apolipoprotein B (apoB). This test, which measures the number of LDL particles as well as other particles that can contribute to clogged arteries, may be a better indicator of heart disease risk than just an LDL cholesterol value. (Locked) More »

Seed of the month: Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium, a mineral that’s important for keeping blood pressure in check. They’re also a good source of several other minerals, unsaturated fats, and fiber. More »

What is a silent stroke?

Most strokes are caused by a clot that blocks a blood vessel in the brain. Those that damage small areas of brain tissue that don’t control any vital functions are known as silent strokes because they don’t cause any noticeable symptoms. (Locked) More »

When walking leads to leg pain

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), which occurs when fatty deposits clog arteries outside the heart, is underrecognized and potentially dangerous. The hallmark symptom is leg pain that occurs with exercise, called intermittent claudication. PAD is more common among people who are older, who smoke, and who have diabetes. The recommended treatment involves short periods of walking interspersed with rest periods when pain occurs. Walking increases blood flow in the leg’s smaller arteries and helps create new channels to move blood around the blockages; it also helps discourage new blockages. (Locked) More »

Why you should move — even just a little — throughout the day

People who sit for long, uninterrupted periods of time may increase their risk of cardiovascular disease, even if they get the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise. Sedentary behavior appears to make people more prone to developing insulin resistance and inflammation, which are key players in the buildup of fatty plaque inside arteries. Experts say people should add short bursts of movement to their daily routine to break up long periods of sitting. (Locked) More »