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Pet ownership is known to positively impact on our health.

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Relax For Heart's Sake

Combat chronic stress for better health!

You’re probably aware of the established risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity are well-known culprits. But did you know that your heart’s health is compromised by both chronic stress?

“We know that heart disease is a complex condition with many contributing factors – one of which is psychosocial, or psychological stress, confirmed cardiologist Dr. Edmund Bermudez, MD of Sarasota’s First Physicians Group.

It is partly the maladaptive behavior that stems from chronic stress–such as anxiety, depression, or lack of sleep–that contributes to adverse outcomes over time, said Dr. Bermudez. But psychological stress 'has an impact independently of all those other cardiovascular risk factors,' he added.

How Chronic Stress Compromises Health 

The impact of stress on our health and heart is physical, mental, and behavioral. Physiologically, it activates 'fight or flight, which causes to adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Chronic exposure to cortisol can affect functions like metabolism, immune response, and inflammation regulation, and adrenaline prompts an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to hypertension. 

Psychologically, even moderate stress is known to impair self-control: that 'maladaptive' behavior Dr. Bermudez talked about includes overeating, becoming too sedentary, and smoking or using alcohol excessively.

Broken-Heart Syndrome

It's important to note that the physiological impact of stress is complex and interconnected, influencing various systems in the body, and that “everyone feels and reacts to stress differently,” said Bermudez. However, for the most part, the effects of stress manifest slowly over time – with one clear exception.

Dr. Bermudez explained that the sudden onset of intense stress can cause “broken heart syndrome,” which is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome: when part of the heart enlarges and doesn’t pump as effectively. This could be brought on by the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or betrayal.

The symptoms of stress-induced cardiomyopathy mimic the chest pain and difficulty breathing experienced during a heart attack, but it’s not caused by blocked arteries. It is believed to result from a surge in stress hormones that temporarily stun the heart muscles.

Takotsubo syndrome gets its name from the Japanese word "takotsubo," meaning octopus trap, because the affected heart takes on a shape that resembles the pot used for trapping the eight-armed mollusks.

Although the change is temporary, weakening of the heart's left ventricle can lead to serious complications, including heart failure. While it's often reversible, broken-heart syndrome underscores the close link between emotional well-being and physical health, noted Dr. Bermudez.

Top Stress Reducers for Your Heart Health 

While it may not be possible to get ahead of something as sudden as broken-heart syndrome, there are many roads to reducing stress and increasing our health. 

· Exercise: The most reliable way to combat the harmful effect of stress on our heart and health is exercise. “We know that exercise really does help manage chronic stress, and that it also can have a positive benefit on mood and behavior,’ said Dr. Bermudez. It also helps decrease the risk of heart disease by improving overall cardiovascular health. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity a week, he added.

· Quality Sleep: Prioritizing quality sleep is a fundamental aspect of maintaining heart health. Establishing good sleep hygiene practices, such as a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and managing stress, can positively impact your overall cardiovascular wellbeing.

· Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT focuses on identifying and altering negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to stress. Over time, it can help reduce the risk of chronic health issues associated with prolonged stress, such as cardiovascular problems and compromised immune function.

· Become a Pet Owner: Pets are known to help manage anxiety, and even depression, by providing companionship and support. Taking care of one’s pet also helps you to become more active–an important goal in stress-reduction and heart health. 

· Go Outdoors: Spending time in nature is known to offer many physical, mental, and emotional health benefits including stress reduction, improved mental wellbeing, improved sleep quality, and more. 

When considering the factors associated with heart health, chronic stress is often overlooked. But understanding its impact is crucial. Furthermore, strategies such as regular exercise, getting quality sleep, and other stress-management tactics are a great way to reduce stress, increase heart health, and improve one’s overall quality of life.

The impact of stress on our health and heart is physical, mental, and behavioral.

  • With Broken-Heart Syndrome part of the heart enlarges and doesn’t pump as effectively.
  • Stress is a heart health risk factor.
  • Pet ownership is known to positively impact on our health.
  • Exercise is the #1 way to reduce stress and improve health outcomes.
  • Edmund Bermudez, MD, of First Physicians Group
  • Be sure to discuss your stress levels with your doctor.