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Be Still My Heart: Stress & Heart Disease

When it comes to heart health, many believe that making lifestyle choices – eating right, exercising, not smoking – will help keep them in the clear. Although these are valuable steps toward a healthy heart, new research suggests stress – from daily stressors to traumatic stress – can also increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

In a study with the American Heart Association, researchers tested the urine of over 400 participants for stress hormones. At the beginning of the study, all participants had normal blood pressure rates. In the following 6-7 years, those who had higher levels of stress hormones in their bodies were significantly more likely to develop problems with high blood pressure. They were also more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke going forward.

With heart disease remaining the leading cause of death in 2022, Americans must not overlook the power of simple stress-relieving activities at home. Not to mention, receiving a heart health screening and monitoring a few heart health indicators can save your life!

Stress-relief at Home:

Breathing Practices: Breathing practices are well-known for relieving stress, but did you know they can also lower one’s heart rate? One example, box or square breathing, is commonly used by navy SEALs and professional athletes in high-pressure situations. When participating in box breathing, a person inhales slowly for a count of 4 and then holds their breath for a count of four. Next, the person exhales slowly for a count of 4 and then holds their breath again for a count of four. Then repeat. If you feel your heart racing or you sense anxiety beginning to take hold, try out box breathing.

Meditation: Research has also shown different meditation practices can help lower stress. Click here for a 20-minute meditation journey recorded and shared by Harbin Clinic psychologist Dr. Frank Harbin.

Consider ways to track at home: Today, many wearable devices and watches will track sleep data, heart rate, and activity levels and then will output a stress metric. This metric is based on a combination of the other data and calls attention to how your lifestyle metrics show evidence of stress. Whether you own a device or not, staying aware of these factors is a great way to hold yourself accountable for your stress level. Find ways to monitor your stress beyond recognizing that “overwhelmed feeling” to know how it is affecting your body and heart.

Numbers to Know By Heart: Don’t wait around for chest pain to take action. This Valentine’s Day, remember heart screenings are an easy way to manage your health. There are five key numbers that doctors can check to better understand your heart health:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Body mass index (BMI)

Talk to your primary care provider about helping you monitor these numbers and to learn more about Harbin Clinic Cardiology and whether you might need any diagnostic testing. Don’t skip a beat! Get the most expert heart care close to home with Harbin Clinic.

Published February 14, 2023

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