Tell It to My Heart: The Effects of Emotions on the Heart

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Since ancient times, the heart has been a symbol of our emotions. But, scientists have uncovered a physical link between emotions and heart health.

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What the Research Shows

Science suggests an association among stress, depression, and heart disease. Several studies strongly suggest that certain psychosocial factors such as grief, depression, and job loss contribute to heart attack and cardiac arrest. Stress may affect risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure. Stress may also affect behaviors that increase risk such as smoking, overeating, drinking too much alcohol, and physical inactivity. Managing and treating these conditions is important to reduce your overall health risk.

Our primary care physicians are trained in doing just that.

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Stress and Your Heart

Emotional stress causes a negative chain reaction within your body. If you’re angry, anxious, tense, frustrated, frightened, or depressed, your body’s natural response is to release stress hormones. These hormones include cortisol and adrenaline. They prepare your body to deal with stress. They cause your heart to beat more rapidly and your blood vessels to narrow to help push blood to the center of the body. The hormones also increase your blood pressure. This “fight or flight” response is thought to date back to prehistoric times, when we needed an extra burst of adrenaline to escape predators.

After your stress subsides, your blood pressure and heart rate should return to normal. If you’re continually stressed out though, your body doesn’t have a chance to recover. This may lead to damage of your artery walls.

Although it is not clear that stress alone causes high blood pressure or heart disease, it does pose an indirect risk and also has a negative effect on your general wellness.

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Stress and Your Reactions

You can manage stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Unfortunately, many people deal with stress by smoking, drinking too much, and overeating. All of these unhealthy habits can contribute to heart disease. But using healthy ways to keep your stress under control allows you to better protect yourself against heart disease. Try these ideas:

  • Exercise. When you are anxious and tense, exercise is a great way to burn off all that excess energy and stress. Go for a walk, a bike ride, or a swim, or go to the gym for your favorite class. Plan to exercise for 30 to 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity, 4 to 5 days a week to relieve stress and improve your heart health.
  • Breathe deeply. Yoga is not only good for your body, but for your mind, too. The meditative, deep breathing done in yoga is calming and relieves stress, especially if you do it regularly.
  • Take a break. When your stress level rises, take a few minutes to escape your surroundings. Spend a few quiet moments alone, read a short story, or listen to your favorite music. Cultivate gratitude. Make a list of what you’re grateful for in your life to focus on the positives.
  • Get together with friends. Social media is no substitute for being with people you love. Create some weekly rituals with your friends. If they live far away, try volunteering or joining a local group of people with similar interests to yours. Research suggests that people with frequent social connections enjoy better protection against high blood pressure.

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Research is ongoing to look more closely at the link between emotional health and heart health. But the existing evidence is consistent enough to prove that you should take its potential effects on your heart seriously. Exercise regularly and keep your emotional health in check, and you’ll build a stronger buffer against heart disease.

To learn more about Heart and Vascular Services at UMC, click here.

 

Give It Your Heart and Sole

Experts have known for a while that certain healthy habits are essential to good heart health. Even simple changes can reduce your risk for heart disease – and lifestyle changes have even been shown to help reverse damage in people already diagnosed with a heart condition.

Heart disease is this country’s No.1 killer, but according to the American Heart Association New Orleans, many deaths from heart disease can be prevented each year by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.

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Find time to exercise

Doing some form of exercise – whether it’s working out at the gym, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or starting a walking program – can improve heart health, according to the AHA. Walking at least 30 minutes of day can help lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile and help you reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. A recent eight-year study of 13,000 people found that those who walked 30 minutes a day had a significantly lower risk of premature death than those who rarely exercised

Thousands of people will be taking this critical message to heart, and making a commitment to leading a heart healthy life at Saturday’s AHA New Orleans Walk in Champion’s Square.

At this annual event, participants join with others and generate a renewed commitment to heart-healthy living through walking.

In addition to a commitment to daily exercise, other lifestyle changes can reduce the risk factors for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

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Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet is one of the best weapons to fight heart disease, according the AHA. Foods consumed can affect risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Eating fatty foods plays a part in the buildup of fat in your arteries, which can lead to blocked arteries of your heart and to the risk of a heart attack. A healthy diet consisting of lean proteins, vegetables, fruit and whole grains can help improve heart health. If you’re overweight, set weight-loss goals. Even losing a small percentage of your body weight reduces your risk for heart disease.

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If you smoke, stop.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says diseases caused by smoking kill more than 440,000 people in the U.S. each year. One out of every five smoking-related deaths is caused by heart disease.

Smoking causes an instant and long-term rise in blood pressure, increases heart rate, reduces blood flow from the heart, damages blood vessels and doubles the risk of stroke.

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Top 3 Recommendations for a Healthier Heart

  • Find time to exercise: Brisk walking for as little as 30 minutes a day has proven health benefits, such as providing increased energy and circulation, as well as reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and nuts. Cut back on sugary foods like soda and on red meat. In general, stay away from foods high in salt, cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans-fat.
  • If you smoke, stop: Smoking can seriously damage blood vessels and increase your risk for heart disease.

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Tips for sticking with your heart healthy lifestyle changes:

  • Start small. Make promises that you can keep. Rather than trying to go the gym every day, aim go three times a week and add more walking each day. Instead of overhauling your entire diet, try replacing sugary treats with healthier options, like fruit.
  • Take a gradual approach. Making lifestyle changes may take time. Don’t expect miracles overnight. Try replacing one unhealthy behavior at a time.
  • Don’t go it alone. Talking about your resolutions and finding support can help you reach your goals. Try forming a group or take a class with others who have common goals. Having support and being able to talk about your struggles can make sticking to your plan less overwhelming.