PrintHow Stress Affects Your Heart

Heart Attack

Chronic stress can double heart disease risk, according to study.

Are you doing all the right things to protect your heart? Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly have long been habits touted to keep your ticker ticking; however, a new study suggests there is another player in the game—stress.

According to the 18-year long study published in the European Heart Journal, those who reported that stress affected their health “a lot or extremely” had double the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) compared to those who didn’t believe stress had a significant effect on their health. This is the first time that researchers have investigated people’s perceptions of their stress levels and related health consequences.

“One of the important messages from our findings is that people’s perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct,” stated the author of the study in a press release.

It turns out that we don’t need a doctor or test to tell us we are stressed. However, the tricky thing is that signs and symptoms of stress overload differ from person to person. Some may “put their foot on the gas” and become overly emotional and agitated when under pressure. Some may do just the opposite and “slam on the brake” by becoming isolated and depressed. Others may be in a “stop and go limbo”, having an outburst at times followed by withdrawal.

No matter how you respond to stress, it is important to find ways to relax and calm the body especially for the sake of your heart. Research has shown that stress can trigger CHD events through several biological mechanisms including exaggerated heart rate and elevated blood pressure, increased stress hormone secretion (cortisol), and activation of inflammatory systems.

Stress can also indirectly affect heart heath through damaging behavioral habits such as smoking, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol consumption, and poor diet.

While it is unlikely that all stress can be eliminated from your life, there are a few steps you can take to calm your mind:

• Deep breathing exercises
• Yoga
• Meditation
• Journaling
• Exercise

The take-away from this study is to listen to your body. When you feel bogged down from the stress of work, family, and finances, take time to make your health a priority and give your heart the “love” it needs.

Reference: Nabi et al. Increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals reporting adverse impact of stress on their health: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study.  European Heart Journal. 2013 [E-pub ahead of print] doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/eht216