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

Avoiding atherosclerosis: The killer you can't see

Following healthy lifestyle habits is the foundation for atherosclerosis risk reduction. Such habits include eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and controlling underlying conditions such as high blood pressure. People who are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease or who have already had a heart attack, stroke, or the diagnosis of angina or peripheral artery disease may need to take a medication called a statin to try to fend off cholesterol buildup in the arteries and shrink plaques. (Locked) More »

Updated exercise guidelines showcase the benefits to your heart and beyond

The 2018 exercise guidelines say that even short bouts of activity lasting just a few minutes can count toward the recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. The steepest drop in heart disease risk occurs at the lowest, initial levels of activity. In addition, a single bout of exercise seems to confer immediate benefits in four factors linked to heart health, including blood pressure, anxiety, insulin sensitivity, and sleep. More »

Add stretches to your exercise routine

Stretching—the deliberate lengthening of a muscle or group of muscles to increase flexibility and range of motion—may encourage people to maintain an exercise routine. But there is no proof that stretching before working out helps prevent exercise-related injuries. Doing static stretches (in which you adopt and hold a position) when your muscles aren’t warmed up may even cause an injury. Instead, gentle movements to stretch your muscles and loosen your joints, known as dynamic stretching, is a better choice before a workout. (Locked) More »

Monitoring a narrowed, stiff aortic valve

For people with moderate to severe aortic valve stenosis who have no symptoms, deciding when to replace the faulty valve has been unclear. But a watchful waiting approach appears to be safe for most people. More »

Recovering from heart surgery

Open-heart surgery leaves people with a long chest incision and a lengthy recovery. Most of the precautions people must follow during the first four to six weeks after surgery are to allow the breastbone to heal. For example, people should not drive, nor should they push, pull, or lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. They should also learn to use their legs rather than their arms to push up to standing from a chair or bed. Getting out of the house and walking every day, gradually going a little farther each day, is encouraged. (Locked) More »

Understanding aneurysms

Aneurysms are bulges or balloon-like pouches that form at a weak spot along an artery. The most common—and most dangerous—are in the brain or the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel. The weakened areas may be acquired or inherited, and both the causes and consequences vary with the location of the artery. Understanding the underlying causes can help people prevent them and know whether to undergo screening tests to detect aneurysms. (Locked) More »

When do you need a heart stent?

An estimated two million people get stents every year to treat coronary artery blockage, yet the American Medical Association says they were one of the most highly overused medical interventions. While stents can be lifesaving for people who are having a heart attack, they may not be the best way to improve symptoms of stable angina or reduce the risk of a heart attack. Instead, they should make lifestyle changes and take medications that relieve symptoms and reduce heart attack risk. (Locked) More »