February is American Heart Month: 6 Tips For Managing Stress & Improving Cardiovascular Health
by Clinical Consulting Team
While the link between stress and cardiovascular health and high blood pressure (hypertension) is still being studied, stress is known to contribute to risk factors like a poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption. In addition to the emotional effects we feel from stress, our bodies also react by sending levels of stress-related steroids, like cortisol, into the blood. High fluctuations of cortisol can make the heart beat faster and constrict blood vessels which keeps blood centered, instead of pumping throughout the rest of the body.
This constriction and increased heart rate raises blood pressure until it returns to its pre-stress level. This is called situational stress, and its effects are generally short-lived and disappear when the stressful event is over. However, extended periods of constant stress causes cortisol to dive and soar in real-time in our bodies for days or weeks at a time.
While stress is a certainly a part of life, prolonged stress can lead to chronic anxiety, irritability, and tension and this can disrupt our daily hormone patterns. However, there are steps and healthy habits we can incorporate into our daily lives to combat and prevent stress before they lead to a meltdown or long-term health side-effects, including heart disease and high blood pressure.
Here are 6 tips for reducing stress, improving cardiovascular health, and improving your overall well-being:
1. Quit Smoking
Using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack. Research says it takes on average seven attempts at quitting before a person is finally successful, so keep trying to quit even if you haven’t succeeded in the past!
Getting regular, daily exercise not only reduces your risk of heart disease, but it produces endorphins which increases your mood and knocks out stress. Physical activity can also help you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Staying active for about 30 minutes on most days of the week, equating to 150 minutes of moderate activity per week OR 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week is a great place to start!
3. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Including a rich variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your meals each day can help protect your heart. Aim to eat beans, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish as part of a healthy diet. Some health experts also claim well-balanced diet can boost your mood!
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight, especially if you carry excess weight around your middle, can increase your risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Losing as little as 5-10 lbs. can lower your risk and even improve your self-esteem, so a little goes a long way!
5. Get Enough Quality Sleep
Sleep deprivation can harm both your health and your mood. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, and depression. Limiting screens before bed can also help regulate cortisol levels and improve your sleep as well. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
6. Regular Health Screenings
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to act. A healthcare professional can also create a custom treatment plan for your specific health situation.
Consider also speaking with your healthcare provider about testing your cortisol levels with DUTCH. Visit our Find a Provider page to find a practitioner familiar with our testing. The DUTCH Complete™ uses the most accurate testing methods available to show your daily free cortisol pattern. Click here to learn more about the DUTCH Complete™ and our other testing panels which test cortisol. With a self-care regimen and regular health screenings, you can reduce stress and improve your overall cardiovascular health!