Dr. Rajeev Kumar Rajput, senior consultant in Interventional Cardiology Department, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital
Stress causes all sorts of minor physical discomfort like sweaty hands and an upset stomach. When stress becomes a constant companion it can cause some serious negative consequences on our health.
Stress increases the plaque rate and it can accumulate in the arteries. It makes platelets sticky and prone to forming clots that can block these arteries. Stress can also cause arteries to constrict, starving the heart of nourishing blood and triggering chest pain or a heart attack.
Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease
Stress is a normal part of life. Stress can come from physical causes like not getting enough sleep or having some kind of illness. Another cause of stress can be emotional. Stress can also come from less dramatic causes like everyday obligations and pressures that make one feel that you are not in control.
The body’s response to stress is supposed to protect you. But, if it’s constant, it can harm you. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress. The high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are common risk factors for heart disease. This stress can also cause changes that promote the build-up of plaque deposits in the arteries.
Even slight stress can trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart muscle. This is a condition in which the heart doesn’t get enough blood or oxygen. And, long-term stress can lead to blood clots. This makes the blood stickier and increases the risk of stroke in the patient.
Common responses to stress include
• Aches and pains
• Decreased energy and sleep
• Feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression
How to manage stress and reduce your heart attack risk
People respond to stressful situations differently. Some react strongly to a situation. Others are relaxed and unconcerned. Luckily, one can decrease the effect of stress on your body. First, identify situations that cause stress. Although difficult, try to control the mental and physical reactions to these stressful situations.
Reducing and managing stress through mindfulness, exercise, and hobbies is an important part of overall health, and it may improve cardiac health too. However, making lifestyle changes to reduce stress is extremely difficult for some people. Because of that, patients should take a realistic look at the stressors in their lives and modify what they can, without worrying too much about what’s out of their control.
Diet & Exercise For Healthy Heart
Two of the simplest yet most important ways to help your heart health are through diet and exercise. Improving your heart health is not difficult when you know how to eat and how to exercise.
Eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Follow these tips to get the most out of your diet-
- Choose healthy fats. When you use fats for cooking, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Avocados are also a good source of monounsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are also healthy choices. Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats are found in fish, such as tuna and salmon.
- In general, you should try to avoid trans fats. Trans fats are usually found in processed foods and snacks such as crackers or snack cakes.
- Go whole-grain. Whole-grain bread or pasta is higher in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are good for your body.
- Prepare meat healthfully. Baking, broiling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare meat and poultry. Don’t forget beans. Dry beans, peas, and lentils offer protein and fiber.
- Choose low-fat dairy. Go for fat-free or low-fat versions of milk, yogurt, and cheese products. Eat protein-rich foods, including fish, lean meats, skinless poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, and beans.
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What one should not eat?
A heart-healthy diet limits some nutrients. These include:
- Flavor foods with spices or no-salt seasonings instead of salt. Watch out for prepackaged foods, sauces, canned foods, and processed foods. They can all contain a high amount of sodium.
- Added sugar. Sweetened drinks, snacks, and sweet treats are the main source of added sugars in the United States. These include sodas, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, cakes, pies, ice cream, candy, syrups, and jellies.
- Limit your intake of alcohol. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day. Women should have no more than 1 drink per day. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and cause you to gain weight. It can also contribute to or worsen heart failure in some people.
Exercise makes your heart stronger. This helps it pump more blood with each heartbeat. This delivers more oxygen to your body. With more oxygen, your body functions more efficiently.
Exercise can also lower blood pressure. It reduces your risk of heart disease and reduces levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol). Bad cholesterol can clog the arteries and can cause a heart attack. At the same time, exercise can raise levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). HDL helps protect against a heart attack by carrying fatty deposits out of the arteries.
When combined with a healthy diet, exercise can speed up weight loss. Regular exercise builds lean muscle, which burns more calories than fat. This helps you burn calories faster, even when you’re sitting still.
What’s the best type of exercise for my heart?
Aerobic exercise causes you to breathe more deeply. It makes your heart work harder to pump blood. Aerobic exercise also raises your heart rate (which burns calories).
Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, running, dancing, swimming, and bicycling. If you haven’t been exercising, try to work up to 30 minutes 4 to 6 times a week. Alternate exercise days with rest days or days you do a very different type of exercise. This will help prevent injuries.