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

An advance in heart transplantation

Every year, hundreds of people in the United States die waiting for a heart transplant. Most are in their 50s and early 60s and have severe, debilitating heart failure. A new procedure known as donation after circulatory death may make up to 20% more donated hearts available. These transplants are made possible thanks to a machine referred to as a "heart in a box" that perfuses the heart with warm blood after it has been removed from the donor. (Locked) More »

COVID-19: Still a concern for the heart

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for people with heart disease and related conditions such as high blood pressure. Older people have higher rates of heart problems, so they may be more vulnerable to complications, and any viral infection puts extra stress on the heart. (Locked) More »

Cracking coconut oil’s "health halo"

Coconut oil raises harmful LDL cholesterol (a well-known contributor to clogged arteries and heart disease) much more than other vegetable oils such as soybean, safflower, canola, and olive oils. More »

Different types of echocardiography

Echocardiograms use high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create images of the heart. There are several variations of this common test, including three-dimensional echocardiograms and color Doppler echocardiograms. (Locked) More »

How stress can harm your heart

Emotional stress may raise heart attack risk as much as smoking and high blood pressure. Stress has been linked to heightened activity in the brain’s fear center (amygdala), which signals the bone marrow to release white blood cells. These cells contribute to chronic inflammation and atherosclerosis. Strategies such as yoga, tai chi, mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, and adequate sleep may help mitigate the risk. But so far, the evidence is limited. (Locked) More »

Seed of the month: Chia seeds

Chia seeds are the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acid and are also a good source of fiber. The small, black seeds don’t have much flavor, so they can be added to foods such as cereal or yogurt for a stealthy nutrient boost. More »

Step up your walking game

Most people typically get around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day doing things such as household chores, going to the mailbox, or grocery shopping. But people who walk 8,000 steps per day (about 4 miles in total) may live longer than those who walk just 4,000 steps per day—and walking speed doesn’t seem to matter. People who walk 12,000 steps per day may live even longer than those who take 8,000 steps. But the added benefit was small, and walking even more may not make a difference. More »

Time to try intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting—a diet that focuses on when rather than what a person eats—may be a good way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular health. One version, time-restricted feeding, involves eating only during a certain time window (usually eight hours) over a single day; another approach limits a person to just 400 to 600 calories daily for several days over the course of a week. The diet may reduce risk factors linked to heart disease, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy blood lipid levels, and inflammation. (Locked) More »