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

Advice about taking aspirin and statins after age 75

Low-dose aspirin and statins are mainstays for preventing heart disease. But for people ages 75 and older, there is less information about the safety and efficacy of these drugs than there is for younger people. According to estimates, nearly half of people ages 70 and older without heart disease take daily aspirin. But as people age, they may be more prone to bleeding, a potentially dangerous side effect of aspirin. Statins are associated with fewer and less serious complications than aspirin, yet people tend to worry more about statin side effects, especially muscle aches. For avoiding heart attacks, taking a statin is probably a safer and more effective approach than taking aspirin. But older people should consult with a doctor about whether to start, stay on, or stop either of these medications. (Locked) More »

An efficient (and thrifty) way to exercise at home

Muscle-strengthening exercises are increasingly being recognized as playing an important role in cardiovascular health. With a set of dumbbells and a few simple moves, people can get a good strength workout at home. Two basic exercises that strengthen a wide range of muscles in the body are a squat and a bent-over row. Boosting muscle mass helps burn more calories, both during and after exercise. Stronger muscles help the body pull oxygen and nutrients from the bloodstream more efficiently, lightening the load on the heart. (Locked) More »

Are the new blood thinners better than warfarin (Coumadin)?

For 50 years, warfarin was the only choice for people who needed to take an oral anticoagulant (blood thinner). New drugs called direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) are just as effective as warfarin in preventing strokes in people with atrial fibrillation and normal heart valves. (Locked) More »

Conversations about life’s final chapter

Only about one in three Americans has any type of legal documentation (known as an advance directive) to guide decisions about medical care should he or she become unable to communicate. But avoiding the topic can leave people unprepared if their health—or the health of a parent, spouse, or friend— suddenly takes a turn for the worse. A good first step is filling out a health decisions worksheet, which helps people consider and explain their goals for future care in detail. The next step is choosing a medical decision maker, known as a health care proxy. (Locked) More »

Gifts from the heart, for the heart

For people looking for holiday gift suggestions, many ideas—from kitchen gadgets to sessions with a personal trainer—may inspire healthy eating and exercise habits. Other examples include a fruit-of-the month subscription, a Mediterranean-inspired gift basket, a cookbook that highlights plant-based meals, a gym membership, home exercise equipment such as dumbbells, or a pass to a yoga studio or another exercise class. (Locked) More »

Who needs aspirin?

Aspirin is prescribed to help protect people with cardiovascular disease against heart attacks and strokes. Yet, because aspirin is so readily available and familiar, many people who don’t need it take it on their own. This can expose them to potentially dangerous side effects, like severe bleeding, and can do more harm than good. (Locked) More »