The healthy heartbeat is traditionally thought to be regulated according to the classical principle of homeostasis whereby physiologic systems operate to reduce variability and achieve an equilibrium-like state [Physiol. Rev. 9, 399-431 (1929)]. However, recent studies [Phys. Rev. Lett. 70, 1343-1346 (1993); Fractals in Biology and Medicine (Birkhauser-Verlag, Basel, 1994), pp. 55-65] reveal that under normal conditions, beat-to-beat fluctuations in heart rate display the kind of long-range correlations typically exhibited by dynamical systems far from equilibrium [Phys. Rev. Lett. 59, 381-384 (1987)]. In contrast, heart rate time series from patients with severe congestive heart failure show a breakdown of this long-range correlation behavior. We describe a new method--detrended fluctuation analysis (DFA)--for quantifying this correlation property in non-stationary physiological time series. Application of this technique shows evidence for a crossover phenomenon associated with a change in short and long-range scaling exponents. This method may be of use in distinguishing healthy from pathologic data sets based on differences in these scaling properties.