The Value of Stress Reduction in Fighting Heart Disease

Diet and exercise are not the only important factors to consider for your heart health.

Posted in , Feb 8, 2021

A woman exercising with her dog; Getty Images

This article is based on information provided by Philips Lifeline.

A diagnosis of heart disease typically prompts a reexamination of two major lifestyle issues: diet and exercise. Whether it’s you or a loved one who may need to make some serious changes, the focus tends to be in these crucial areas. You may determine to take daily walks around the neighborhood or schedule a few stretching classes each week to get the exercise you need to be fit. Or you may rethink the foods you buy for your loved one to cut out excess saturated fat and add more leafy greens and whole grains. As central as diet and exercise are to heart health, there is a third key risk factor to take into consideration: stress. It’s important to reduce it as much as possible.

“It’s the modern disease that can result from working in an office where everyone is pressured to deliver” whether a senior or a caregiver, says Paul Adams, Senior Director of Product Management for Philips Lifeline. “Then, in addition to your job, you worry about your family, your college fees, your co-pays. The challenge is to step away from these issues that cause stress and focus on what’s important in life.”

De-stressing Tips
Stress affects our health in negative ways because it raises levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone. Cortisol, which is produced in the adrenal glands, can take considerable physical tolls. Among them, it impedes the body’s ability to combat disease and raises blood pressure and cholesterol. That adds up to a greater risk for heart disease. However, there are a number of effective—and even enjoyable—ways to decrease the stress in your life, including:

Routine exercise: Incorporating regular activity into your days not only improves your physical well-being. It also helps to burn cortisol and boosts your mood. Pick an exercise that’s fun for you — walking, swimming, biking, hiking, etc. — and do it on a regular basis.

Get cozy: The opposite of cortisol is oxytocin, the hormone produced when mothers bond with their babies and pet lovers snuggle with their cats and dogs. Set aside quality time to spend with your loved ones and yes, pet your kitty.

A daily dose of humor: Laughter really can be the best medicine. Researchers William Fry and Michael Miller embarked on a study to investigate the truth of that old adage and discovered that a good dose of mirth on a regular basis has positive effects on vascular health.

Easy mindfulness: When pressure and worry begin to pile up, it can be tough for those with heart disease to simply take a moment to refocus on things that truly matter in their lives. Ironically, it is one of the easiest things to do. Mindfulness only requires 10 minutes or so to move inward and find a place of peace. It can be as simple as focusing on your breath. “You don’t need to join a meditation class or sign-up for yoga,” says Adams. “Just focus on what’s important in your life.” To help with that, Adams says, meditation apps can allow you to find a quiet place, plug in your earphones and relax. The Mayo Clinic offers an app for that purpose.

Soothing the savage beast: Even though it’s not yet definitive, some studies indicate that music can have an effect on stress levels. Regardless, what’s the harm in listening to a lush symphony or some nice cool jazz?

Worrying about falls is another source of stress, both for seniors and their caregivers. But medical alert devices, like those from Philips Lifeline, can provide peace of mind. Seniors and their caregivers know that aid can be accessed at the touch of the Lifeline button – helping to reduce stress and providing a line to help when it may be needed most.

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