Heart Health: Answers From Cardiologist Dr. Michael Blaha

Elderly couple together running outdoors

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Dr. Michael Blaha , a Johns Hopkins heart expert, answers questions during a Facebook chat about heart health.

You can learn more about how to eat heart smart, move move more and stay healthy with the Johns Hopkins Healthy Heart portal.

Q: Is short, intense exercise or longer, sustained training better for cardiovascular health?

A: In general, any good heart healthy exercise program should include sustained, moderate to vigorous activity. You should break a sweat. Short, intense activity is not necessary. However, research has shown that sustained activity coupled with short bursts of strength training do better than either alone. Variety is good!

Q: Is blockage the only cause of heart attacks?

A: There are other rare causes of heart attack that are not caused by atherosclerosis. However, more than 95 percent of heart attacks are caused by atherosclerosis. There does not need to be a blockage to have a heart attack. An atherosclerotic plaque can "rupture" and cause a heart attack. If you have a score of zero, you likely have little important atherosclerosis now, so your near term risk is quite low, but you need to keep it that way with all of the right heart healthy lifestyle choices.

Q: Is the feeling of pressure in my chest while lying down a sign to be concerned about a heart issue?

A: Usually coronary artery disease causes more symptoms during exercise compared to when patients are at rest. However, this is not always the case, particularly if the symptoms last a long time. Take close stock of any symptoms you might also feel during exercise and then present a detailed account of all of your symptoms to your doctor, who can figure out what to do next.

Q: What heart diseases are common in the age group 55 to 65? How can these diseases be prevented? What measures can one take to maintain a healthy heart?

A: The main thing to worry about in this age range is the continued buildup of cholesterol in the walls of the arteries, so called atherosclerosis. The disease can start to cause symptoms in this age range.

It is particularly important in this age range to see a doctor regularly and adapt heart healthy lifestyle behaviors. These include:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet
  • Exercise regularly