Take Stress To Heart
With February being American Heart Health Month, West Jefferson Heart Clinic of Louisiana’s Dr. Edmund Kerut, MD, shares tips on how to keep your ticker in top shape.
Stress is a normal part of life and is often ignited by physical causes, such as not getting enough sleep or having an illness. Another cause of stress can be emotional, such as worrying about not having enough money or grieving the loss of a loved one. Even everyday obligations and pressures have the ability to make you feel anxious or overwhelmed at times.
Your body’s natural response to stress is to protect you. However, if stress is constant, it can eventually harm you. In response to stressors, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Studies suggest that high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure — all risk factors for heart disease.
Short-term stress can potentially trigger heart problems, such as poor blood flow to the heart muscle – restricting oxygen and blood to one of your most important organs. Long-term stress can be associated with blood clot formation, making the blood stickier and increasing risk of stroke.
Everyone reacts to stress differently. In fact, people with the most stress tend to manage stress in unhealthy ways, such as smoking or overeating.
Some common responses to stress include:
• aches and pains;
• decreased energy and sleep;
• feelings of anxiety, anger and depression;
• impatience; and
While some react strongly to a stressful situation, others are more relaxed or unconcerned. Fortunately, you can decrease the effect of stress on your body with a few simple steps. Try the following tips to manage stress and keep your heart healthy.
Get plenty of exercise. Exercise can help counteract the harmful effects of stress. For heart health, aim for at least 30 to 40 minutes, four to five days a week. Exercise can improve cardiovascular health by controlling weight, improving lipid levels (blood fats), and lowering blood pressure. People who exercise tend to have a reduced physical response to stress. Their blood pressure and heart rates don’t go up as high as people under stress who don’t exercise. Regular exercise can also reduce the risk of depression, another risk factor for heart disease.
Build a strong support system. Having a strong support network, such as having someone you can talk to and trust or belonging to organizations, can reduce your stress level and risk of heart disease. Having at least one person you can rely on takes a heavy burden off you and provides comfort.
A strong support system also helps you take better care of yourself. A lack of social support increases the chance of engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, eating a high-fat diet and drinking too much alcohol.
Seek treatment for constant depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety can increase your risk of heart disease. To reduce anxiety levels, try activities that lower stress, such as yoga, walking meditation, traditional meditation and guided imagery. Look for classes in your area. Talk with your health care provider if you have feelings of depression or anxiety and ask for remedies that can help.
Reduce stress from work. Studies have shown that a demanding job with few opportunities for decision making and little reward increases one’s risk of heart disease. Work stress may become more of a problem when you don’t have a strong support system.
Do what you can to gain control over your work environment. Try to take a little time out of the day to do something that is relaxing and that you enjoy. This may be reading, walking or deep breathing. Your employer may offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to help you manage stress. A counselor can help recommend strategies to help you lower your work-related stress.
If you think you are at an increased risk for heart disease because of stress in your life, speak with your health care provider. He or she may recommend counseling, classes or other programs to help you lower your stress level and decrease your risk for heart disease.
Board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases, and echocardiography, Dr. Edmund K. Kerut is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American Society of Echocardiography. He is a diplomat in Cardiovascular Computed Tomography, as well as Transthoracic and Transesophageal Echocardiography. He sub-specializes in non-invasive heart testing (echo and CT) and is the senior editor for “Echocardiography,” a medical journal with worldwide distribution.