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February is American Heart Month

Heart health, stress, heart disease

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

How does stress affect heart health? Stress is a normal part of our daily lives, but when stress is excessive, it can lead to a wide variety of health problems, such as high blood pressure, asthma, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.

Researchers agree that stress may affect behaviors and factors proven to increase the risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.

People often turn to comfort foods—like pizza, pie, and cookies—when they're stressed. These high-fat, high-cholesterol foods contribute to the artery damage that causes heart attacks and strokes.

Everyone feels stress in different ways and reacts to it differently. How much stress you experience and how you react to it can lead to a wide variety of health problems — and that’s why it’s critical to know what you can do about it.

Managing stress is an important piece to heart disease prevention. A physiological response to stress is a faster heart beat to get the body ready for action. When a person is under prolonged stress, the body secretes a hormone called cortisol, which increases blood pressure and causes the body to retain fluid. In turn, the increased fluid places excessive stress on the heart.

Long term stress on the heart can cause high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, damage to arteries, higher cholesterol levels, and higher risk of developing artherosclerosis (coronary artery disease) and other heart diseases.

A stressful situation sets off a chain of events. Your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These reactions prepare you to deal with the situation — the "fight or flight" response.

Your body's response to stress may be a headache, back strain, or stomach pains. Stress can also zap your energy, wreak havoc on your sleep and make you feel cranky, forgetful and out of control.

According to the American Heart Association, you can do a number of things to manage stress. Some suggestions are exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, not smoking, not drinking too much coffee, following a healthful diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

Often it feels impossible to escape stress. With smartphones, it seems to follows us everywhere! Cut the cord. Take time each day—even if it's for just 10 or 15 minutes—to escape from the world. Take a bubble bath, see a movie, listen to music, or read a book. Any technique is effective if it works for you.

Laughter has also been found to lower levels of stress hormones, reduce inflammation in the arteries, and increase "good" HDL cholesterol.

Incorporating small steps into your daily routines can make a significant difference in how you feel and react to stress, ultimately reducing your risk of heart disease.

Source: American Heart Association. Stress and Heart Health. Retrieved Feb.2020, at: www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/HowDoesStressAffectYou/Stress-and-Heart-Health_UCM_437370_Article.jsp

 

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