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

Alcohol’s heart advantages under scrutiny

The notion that moderate drinking is good for the heart may be based on the flawed assumption that nondrinkers are less healthy because they don’t drink. Instead, abstainers may have stopped drinking because of health problems. More »

Does diet soda raise stroke risk?

The evidence linking diet sodas to a higher risk of stroke and dementia is weak. But there are other reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners, namely because they don’t seem to help with weight loss. Also, people who use them regularly may find less-sweet fruits and vegetables unappealing, which could lead them to miss out on nutrients in these foods. But sugar-sweetened beverages are closely tied to a higher likelihood of weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Plain or sparkling water infused with fruit or other natural flavors is the healthiest choice. (Locked) More »

Is chocolate heart-healthy?

People who eat more chocolate have lower rates of heart attacks, heart failure, and death from heart disease. However, chocolate products are often rich in saturated fat and sugar, so they should be eaten in moderation. (Locked) More »

Marijuana and heart health: What you need to know

More than half of the states in the United States have approved medical marijuana programs. Although the cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years, reliable scientific research on its medical benefits and potential risks has lagged behind. Limited evidence shows that smoked marijuana may trigger heart attacks in people who are vulnerable. (Locked) More »

Prescribing “the best medicine”

Only about half of American adults do enough physical activity to benefit their health. Exercise is especially vital for people at risk for heart disease or who already have it, but people don’t always know how much and how hard they should exercise. Recently, fitness trackers have made heart rate tracking popular, but people can also pay attention to their rate of perceived exertion (RPE). For moderate-intensity exercise, people should aim for exertion levels midway between sitting still and exercising as hard as possible. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. More »

Clot prevention with a mechanical heart valve

For people with mechanical heart valves who must take clot-preventing drugs, warfarin is currently the only option. Newer anti-clotting drugs known as NOACs have not been proven safe for people with mechanical valves. (Locked) More »

Rethinking good cholesterol

Long known as the “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol seems to be more of a bystander than a beneficial molecule when it comes to preventing heart disease. People with genetic mutations that cause high HDL don’t have fewer heart attacks than those without those mutations. And five major clinical trials that sought to raise HDL levels with drugs have failed to lower heart disease risk. More »

Tennis, anyone?

People who play tennis a few times a week may lower their chances of dying of heart disease or a stroke compared with inactive people. Tennis provides an upper- and lower-body workout, as well as intermittent, high-intensity activity, both of which are thought to be good for the heart. Tennis playing also has been linked to other factors associated with heart health, including a lower body-fat percentage and more favorable cholesterol levels. Finally, the game encourages mindfulness and strengthens social ties, which may lower stress levels. (Locked) More »