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

A good night’s sleep: Advice to take to heart

Sleeplessness can detract from productivity and quality of life. The hazards of poor sleep extend well beyond a cranky mood. Research shows that an irregular sleep pattern that varies from the seven- to nine-hour norm is linked to cardiovascular risks, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. (Locked) More »

Walking the dog: Yes, it counts as exercise

Dog owners tend to get more exercise than people who don’t own dogs, and the added activity likely counts toward recommended physical activity goals. Daily dog walks may also help people avoid loneliness and social isolation by fostering connections with neighbors. Walking in a park or another green space may help relieve stress—another contributor to heart disease. Petting a dog and gazing into its eyes may also help lower blood pressure. (Locked) More »

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 »

The push you need to learn CPR

Only about 18% of adults in the United States are currently trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), although 65% say they’ve been trained in the past. Doing CPR on a person in cardiac arrest (when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating) more than doubles their odds of survival. People can learn CPR in a class thought the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. The key technique—pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest—can keep blood circulating until the person’s heart can be shocked back into a normal rhythm with a defibrillator. (Locked) More »

When a pain in the neck is serious

A cervical artery dissection is a tear in one of the arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain. Although rare, it is one of the most common causes of stroke in people under age 50. Sudden movements that twist or hyperextend the neck can cause the problem. They include whiplash from a car accident, chiropractic neck adjustments, certain intense forms of exercise, and tipping the head back over a sink at a beauty salon. The pain from a neck artery dissection is unusual, persistent, and often accompanied by a severe headache. (Locked) More »