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

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 »

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. More »

A closer look at your coronary arteries

The blood vessels that supply the heart may narrow with age, known as coronary artery disease. But people have misconceptions about this condition, which is responsible for the heart attacks that strike somewhere in this country roughly every 40 seconds. For example, people don’t usually experience angina (the classic symptom of coronary artery disease) until an artery is 70% to 90% blocked. Angioplasty plus a stent to reopen a blocked coronary artery can be lifesaving when done during a heart attack. For people with stable angina, a stent can relieve symptoms but has not been proved to prevent a future heart attack or extend a person’s life. (Locked) More »

Getting into the swing of golf

Golf is a low-impact sport with several features that make it a good exercise for people who have or are at risk for heart disease. Playing 18 holes of golf without riding in a cart involves walking four to five miles, which easily meets the recommended daily step count of 10,000 steps. It also provides a chance to socialize with friends and to spend time in a relaxing natural environment, which may help lower stress. More »