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Stress and Heart Health

Numerous studies have shown the harmful effects that mental stress can have on the body. Physical effects range from loss of sleep to aches and pains, from the head down through the stomach and digestive tract – and all of these effects come from tension that can affect your circulatory system.

The ways we respond to stress can be even more harmful to the body than the stress itself. Stressful triggers lead to such destructive habits as excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco usage, eating to achieve calm rather than to sate hunger, and anxiously rushing through tasks to get to the next goal.

Let´s look at the ways that stress actually damages the heart, first.

The body reacts to stress physically by introducing adrenaline into the blood stream. The blood pressure rises, and so does the heart rate and breathing rate.

In the short term, this isn´t a bad thing. This is how the body was designed to handle stressful situations. However, if the stress is ongoing, the increased blood pressure and heart rate can harm the walls of the arteries.

If you add this to the damage that unhealthy responses to stress can bring, you can see that stress can turn into a slow, inexorable decline in your heart health – in other words, a possible gradual progression to extended heart problems including a possible heart attack.

There are several healthy ways to deal with this problem.

Here are some tips to help you avoid the effects of long-term aggregate stress.

  • Stop smoking. Today! The chemicals that tobacco introduces into your body are only a short-term solution to stress; unquestionably, the long-term effects of smoking can include emphysema, cancer, heart disease and premature death. And remember, smoking has been proven to be addictive.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. One or two drinks can help your heart´s health. More than that, and you could be hurting your heart in the long run.
  • Get at least six hours of sleep every night. You will feel better, and your heart will be healthier.
  • Express your stress to others to diffuse it. This can include venting, but not dumping - although there is a fine line between the two - to close friends or family members. Make sure that you share good news too, so people will continue to welcome your calls and emails.
  • Exercise every day. This doesn´t mean that you have to go to the gym, or yoga class, or cycle 20 miles daily. It does mean that you need to get up and move with some level of strenuous activity for at least half an hour each day. You´ll feel better, and your heart will thank you.
  • Organize your life so that you are not constantly reacting to situations. Surprises happen to everyone, but prior planning can help reduce much of the stress that comes from last-minute emergencies.
  • Realize what you can change, and what you can´t. Don´t spend a lot of time worrying about what you can´t fix, once you´ve concluded that you can´t fix it.
  • Separate your tasks into things you must do right now, and things you must do at some point in the future. Your dog can wait one more day before you brush her; your toilets can wait one more day before you scrub them. Take care of the most important things first, and don´t obsess over what you didn´t accomplish on a given day.

These tips are designed to help you minimize stress in your life. Not only is stress extremely unpleasant but it can wear away at one of your most important organs – your heart!

Copyright © 2010 by Jack Osborne - All Rights Reserved


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