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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.

red heart graphicWhile more research is needed to determine how stress contributes to heart disease, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Jepsen, S. Dee, McGuire, K., and Poland, D. (2011). Managing Stress for a Healthy Heart, Ohio State University Extension, AEX-982.4-11

American Heart Association. Stress and Heart Health. Retrieved Jan. 22, 2014, at:

This project is supported by the Rural Health & Safety Education Competitive Grant Program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), grant number 2013-46100-21467.

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