De-Stress for a Healthy Heart

Valentine’s Day is all about hearts. Dealing with stress is one way to keep your heart healthy so that you can keep loving on your sweetie, friends, and family for many years to come!

While a little bit of stress can help us perform better, especially during an emergency, too much stress is detrimental to our health, especially our heart health. “Stress is a risk factor for heart disease,” says Jennifer Mieres, MD, professor of cardiology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, “because it can cause inflammation and hinder blood flow to the heart.”

According to “This Is Your Heart on Stress,” an article by Toni Ferber Hope in the February 2016 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, here’s how your heart reacts to stress:

Your brain senses danger. Sometimes you might actually be in danger, but in today’s world it’s more likely that you’re facing a deadline or juggling multiple priorities.
Your brain sends a signal to the hypothalamus gland, which sets in motion the “fight or flight” response. Your adrenal glands pump out stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure goes up and you breathe more rapidly. Your body releases glucose (sugar) and fats from storage to give your muscles fuel (because you would need that quick energy if you were in an actual emergency).
The crisis passes and your systems return to normal. Or do they? If you’re under constant stress, your systems stay revved up, which leads to trouble. Persistently high levels of stress hormones increase inflammation within blood vessels, which can contribute to damage and narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.

In her article, Hope shares coping advice from the diverse experts that include:

Awareness. Get into the habit of checking in with your body at least once a day. How’s your breathing? (Deep and slow, or shallow and fast?) Are your muscles tight? Being aware, taking a few deep breaths, and mindfully relaxing muscle tension can help tame your body’s reaction to stress.
Aggie Casey, co-author of Mind Your Heart offers two breathing exercises. First: Count very closely from 10 down to 1, saying the number with each exhale. So, breathe in deep and say “10” as you exhale. Breathe in deep and say “9” as you exhale, etc. Second: Visualize the outline of a big square. As you inhale, draw a vertical and then a horizontal line. As you exhale, draw a vertical line and horizontal line in your mind to complete the square.

Nutrition. Because hunger and low blood sugar make it difficult to react well to stress, Keri Gassman, founder of Nutritious Life, recommends eating healthy, whole foods consistently throughout the day. Carry snacks with you such as a small bag of almonds or walnuts. Sip a cup of chamomile tea. That soothing drink might help you sleep better, with is also a key way to lower anxiety and help your body recover from it.

Recreation. Psychologist Mary Alvord, Ph.D. recommends finding a hobby like making jewelry, knitting or crocheting that can help put your brain in a focused but relaxed state (which is why coloring books for adults are taking selling through the roof!).
She also says it’s important to reach out to others—connect with colleagues, join a book or garden club if that’s what you enjoy. A regular activity give you something to look forward to, and a supportive group of friends provides a network to call upon when pressure hits.
Alvord also recommends restructuring your stressful thoughts so you don’t catastrophize. If you’re running late, for example, is it really the end of the world? What is the worst thing that could happen? Giving yourself a reality check and realizing that you could survive even in the unlikely even that the worst thing did happen can help you calm down.
Finally, she suggests surrounding yourself with things that make you relax or smile. if you’re on your computer or phone a lot, have a screen saver/wallpaper like a nature scene. Build reminders into your schedule to do breathing exercises.

Exercise. Certified personal trainer Maria Guerra says exercising is key to conditioning your heart to protect it against the negative effects of stress. Walking is great. But aerobic exercise that makes you break a sweat does more to strengthen your heart and lungs. You can use a heart rate monitor if you want to really target the right heart rate for your age. Bursts of higher intensity exercise can give your heart a good workout. Climbing is more challenging than working at a rapid pace on level ground, Guerra writes. And once you’re working out hard, you’re more likely to stay motivate to eat better!

 

heart of fruits d williams flickr

 

Photo D. Williams/Flickr

Category : Blog Posted on February 2, 2016

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