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.

 

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A Resolution for a Revolution: How to Stay True to Your New Year’s Goals

 

Author: Alan Gatz, MD, UMC Primary Care Physician

Most people have good intentions when making a resolution, but oftentimes, they set themselves up for failure by setting unrealistic goals or not being fully invested in the proposition.

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For example:  “I resolve to transform this overweight, middle-aged couch potato into the new and improved Adonis 2.0.” Okay, you caught me. This has been my standard resolution for the past two decades. After 20+  years, I have yet to achieve this unrealistic, yet admirable result. If I had to guess, I would say that most who read this post have made similar nebulous resolutions.

Well, what’s past is past: I’m vowing to make 2018 different.

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Rather than talking the talk, I’m endeavoring to walk the walk — and you should, too! The days of written vows that never live to see the light of day should be rendered passé. Instead, we should take oaths that describe defined, attainable goals supported by specific actions to reach those goals.

Only in doing that can we measure our success — because we’ll actually have metrics. This tangible action will improve our success significantly by serving as a physical reminder and reinforcement of our commitment.

With that in mind, I present to you my personal oath for 2018.

I vow to take charge of my health and well-being by:

  • Establishing a relationship with a primary care physician
  • Exercising at least 3 times per week for 45 to 60 minutes
  • Developing healthy eating habits and limiting consumption of fast food
  • Working with my physician, dietitian, and exercise physiologist to attain and maintain a weight that reduces my risk for developing diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and degenerative arthritis

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Each of these actions can be observed/measured and the results, documented. There exists no excuses.

Now that I have not only spoken — but transcribed — the vow for all to see, I guess I better follow through! Just don’t expect Adonis as the end result. Record of my progress will be kept and updated via this HealthyU Blog, so check back often!  I will report the results of my efforts and, hopefully, demonstrate the positive benefits of committing to a healthy lifestyle.

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UMC remains committed to the well-being of its staff and all who present themselves for care. To this end, the Primary Care Clinic, located at 2003 Tulane Avenue, opened on December 20th for all who wish to establish ongoing care with a primary care specialist.

If you desire to make the commitment to improve your health by losing weight and reducing your risk for developing serious medical conditions, please contact the office for an appointment. Dr. Rogers and I look forward to partnering with you in your quest for better health. Call the clinic directly at 504-962-6120.

A belated Happy New Year to all!