Stress is something we all go through at some point. It’s a natural part of life. But when we’re stressed for prolonged periods of time, it can leave us feeling exhausted and sleepless, with an upset stomach and a racing heart. This can go on to impact other parts of our overall wellbeing, including our cardiovascular health.
Let’s dive into the relationship between stress and your heart, and a few ways you can lower stress levels to keep your heart healthy.
What happens to the body when we’re stressed?
When we feel stressed, it sets off a chain reaction in the body, commonly known as the fight or flight response. At the first indication of stress, our body gets the signal to respond to a threat. This increases the production of hormones called adrenaline and cortisol, which causes your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure to increase. Your body is ultimately preparing you to either face the situation (fight) or run away (flee). As a result of this, you may start sweating more or even experience dizziness, headaches, and stomach pains.
The stress response is our body’s way of protecting us – by focusing on the threat at hand, it redirects energy from other important functions like digestion and immunity.
How does stress impact the heart?
The fight or flight response is most useful when we’re posed with an immediate threat, like encountering a grizzly bear in the woods. But when we experience chronic stress due to a heavy workload or relationship troubles for example, the body is being overworked for days, weeks, or even months at a time. High levels of cortisol due to long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels, all of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. It can also go on to increase your risk of heart disease.
Additionally, chronic stress contributes to the buildup of plaque deposits within the arteries, which increases blood cholesterol levels and results in poor blood flow to the heart. A recent study showed that reduced blood flow to the heart can trigger heart attacks and strokes. The study also found that those who endured mental stress were more likely to have a heart attack or be impacted by cardiovascular disease in the years to come.
So, it’s clear that all types of stress can take a major toll on the health of our hearts. Treating the root cause and taking measures to lower stress levels can help reduce the load on your heart, ultimately improving the longevity of your heart.
Ways to manage stress and support your heart
It’s never too early to start thinking about your cardiovascular health. And there are a couple of different ways you can add a little more peace and calm to your daily life in order to support your heart.
Stress-reducing lifestyle habits
Although everyone manages stress differently, there are some common everyday habits that can help you better manage your stress. Here are a few to get you started:
Move your body
At least 30 minutes of daily movement can help to improve heart health by maintaining cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, and controlling your heart rate. When you start moving your body, you may notice an increase in your heart rate. Over time, regular exercise can help to lower the effort needed from your heart to pump blood throughout the body during physical activity. This ultimately lowers your heart rate in the long run. Plus, exercise increases the production of feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, which can reduce stress and improve your overall sense of well-being.
What we eat can have an impact on our health, and this includes our hearts. Start by adding some of these heart-healthy foods into your daily routine:
Omega-3 Fatty acids
Foods like mackerel, salmon, and avocados are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are known to help reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol within the body. To ensure you’re getting all the omega-3 fatty acids you need, it can be helpful to turn to a daily supplement. While fish oil is a common choice, krill oil is proven to be more beneficial, especially for cardiovascular health. Krill oil mimics the structure of our cell membranes, making it easier for the body to absorb and reap the benefits. It also shows a 21% increase in omega-3 levels in the body within the first month of usage, as opposed to a 9% increase with fish oil.
Leafy green vegetables
Veggies like spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in vitamin K. This vitamin can encourage proper blood clotting and protect your arteries.
Foods like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oats are high in fibre. Fibre is one of the most effective nutrients when it comes to lowering your cholesterol levels. This is because fibre binds to cholesterol molecules within the small intestine, which reduces the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed into our bloodstream. Similarly, taking a supplement like Red Yeast Rice provides the body with compounds called statins that work to prevent the creation of cholesterol.
In addition to a nutritious diet, taking that extra step to protect your heart may bring you some peace of mind and help reduce stress. Inno-Q-Nol features ubiquinol, the most bioactive form of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 helps to fuel our mitochondria and provides our heart with all the energy it needs to function effectively.
Try to incorporate activities into your everyday life that bring you joy and relaxation. This can include taking a walk outdoors, reading a book, journaling to process your thoughts,or practicing yoga or meditation. These activities can help take your mind off stressful situations and allow you to rest.
Why? Well, these types of activities trigger a part of the nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) or the rest and digest response. The PNS is responsible for reversing the effects of the fight or flight response (triggered by the sympathetic nervous system or SNS). It does this by lowering heart rate and blood pressure, stimulating digestion, and allowing our cells to regenerate effectively. So, the PNS helps bring our bodies back to a stable and calm state of mind, which is where we want to be most of the time!
Everyone is different–what may be relaxing for some might not work for others. It’s a great opportunity to explore new hobbies and see what brings you a sense of happiness and relaxation.
Build a support system
Sometimes, talking about your sources of stress with a trusted friend, family member, or health professional can help ease your mind. In life, it’s important to have a strong support system to help take the load off your chest and lower your stress. It can be tough to get vulnerable about stressful situations, but it’s well worth the effort.
The heart is one of the most important organs that help keep us healthy and alive. This means that supporting your heart health is an essential part of your overall wellbeing. Taking precautions to manage and reduce stress in your daily life can help keep your heart beating strong!
Risk Factors for Heart Disease: Don’t Underestimate Stress
Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease
Stress and a Heart Attack: Is There a Connection?
Association of Mental Stress–Induced Myocardial Ischemia With Cardiovascular Events in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease
15 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods
Effects of Exercise on the Resting Heart Rate: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Interventional Studies
* This article was originally published here