Chronic Stress, Your Heart, and 5 Tips to Better Heart Health
Cardiovascular health takes center stage here at cbdMD for the month of February, which is American Heart Month. Across the country, Americans are participating in heart awareness campaigns and working to reduce chronic stress in order to help their hearts. The Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention campaigns for awareness about hypertension (high blood pressure), an important risk factor for heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, and how some communities are disproportionately at risk.
Here at cbdMD, we encourage you to make this month an important one for yourself and your family – and take the time to put hearts first. Today, we’re sharing five tips for how you can prioritize your heart health, handle chronic stress in your life, and make healthy decisions for your cardiovascular health.
Your Heart and Chronic Stress
It’s not a myth that stress is bad for your heart. Whether acute (a stress event) or chronic (ongoing), stress causes hormones to be released in the body: catecholamines such as epinephrine, also called adrenaline. These hormones can damage the heart if the exposure is ongoing, as with chronic stress.
Chronic stress can cause all sorts of problems with the heart and connected tissues:
- Increased oxygen demand on the body and heart
- Blood vessel spasms
- Instability of the heart’s conduction system
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- The heart is forced to work harder to provide blood flow for bodily functions
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Heart failure
Chronic stress having such serious effects tells us one thing for sure – that stress management and self-care not only are necessary for your health but could also save your life. Let’s take a look at how to reduce chronic stress and take the best care of your heart possible.
Reducing Chronic Stress
From a stressful event such as losing a job or moving, to an ongoing stressful situation like illness, going to school, or dealing with parental challenges, your stress response by your body can be rough on your heart. The goal is to lessen daily and ongoing stress, particularly how you respond to stress and to avoid consistent fight-or-flight responses that send your heart into overdrive.
One other important aspect is your genetic history. If there are heart issues in your family or if you are African American, this may raise your risks of heart-related illnesses. In spite of risk factors, reducing chronic stress can help.
- Reduce your chronic stress levels as much as possible.
- Practice healthy coping mechanisms: taking cleansing breaths, doing relaxing yoga, meditation, taking walks, reading a book, or doing a creative project.
- If you experience elevated stress and have trouble managing it, talk with your doctor about how you can better manage stress and keep your heart healthy.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Your diet also affects the health of your heart. Heart-healthy foods will have low saturated fat and cholesterol levels and may contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid. Here are some tips for a heart-healthy diet:
- Portion control – do not overeat.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, or barley
- Low saturated fat: The American Heart Association recommends it be less than 6 percent of total daily calories.* If you're eating 2,000 calories a day, that's about 11 to 13 grams.
- Reduce salt intake.
Exercise for Heart Health
Before you begin any type of exercise program, talk with your doctor to be sure your heart is healthy enough for the exercises or athletic activities you want to do. Then, ask your doctor for their recommendations for a heart-healthy exercise routine that’s best for you.
Johns Hopkins shared in 7 Heart Benefits of Exercise some ways that exercise helps our hearts: controlling weight, reducing blood pressure, strengthening muscles, reducing stress inflammatory responses, slowing the development of some illnesses, and helping some people quit smoking.
These are just a few reasons to get up and get moving, but what kind of exercise is best for the heart? And how much exercise helps to reduce your risks of coronary heart disease or other heart problems?
The American Heart Association recommends that you “Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.”
This could include aerobic exercise like taking a walk with your dog or going for a swim. Stretching, flexibility, and balance movements – like yoga, playing a game of ping pong, or taking the stairs. And strength training – like working with a pair of hand weights or a kettlebell.
Get Adequate Sleep
While you are sleeping, your heart rate slows and your blood pressure lowers, giving your heart some rest. The CDC recommends seven hours of sleep each night for most adults.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the leading causes of heart attack. If you are not getting the sleep your body needs each night, then your blood pressure is staying higher for longer periods of time. This may elevate your risk of developing a heart condition or having a heart attack.
So, snuggle up in bed a little early tonight and get some zzz’s. Your heart needs it!
Quit Smoking and Avoid Second-Hand Smoke
One of the worst things you can do for your heart is to smoke. Second-hand smoke is also very dangerous for your heart health. As hard as it is to quit, and no matter how many times you have to try to quit – keep trying until you swear off nicotine for good!
Exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year. And nonsmokers who have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol have an even greater risk of developing heart disease when they’re exposed to secondhand smoke. – Cleveland Clinic
Talk with your doctor, make a plan, set a quit date, and get it done.
Your Heart Matters
We hope these five tips can kick off your February with a personal mission to love your heart and keep it happy and healthy. From managing chronic stress to making healthy lifestyle choices for your heart health, here at cbdMD we support you on all your health and wellness missions.
Take care of yourself – and your heart! – this American Heart Month and remind those you love to do the same.