Take Heart: Stress and Heart Health

“Limit stress” is probably the most difficult heart healthy habit to adopt because stressful situations are often out of our control. Many times you know exactly what is causing your stress but there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes there are things you can do: change to a less stressful job, de-clutter your living spaces, send the children to Grandma’s for a month, break a big problem down into small actionable steps, etc., but sometimes all you can do is exercise and pray.

Why pray? It’s out of your control, but nothing is out of God’s control.

heart stressWhy exercise? Ongoing stress isn’t good for your heart because it raises your blood pressure. Exercise lowers your blood pressure therefore helping to “destress” your body. Stress saps your energy, exercise increases it. Stress robs you of sleep, exercise improves sleep. Stress produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, exercise reduces those and produces endorphins which are to the brain what chocolate is to womankind.

Sometimes looking at heart health can stress you out too. All of the do’s and don’ts can be overwhelming, especially if you have a long way to go to make your cardiologist proud. You don’t have to change everything all at once; you’ll drive yourself crazy and give up. The goal is a heart healthy lifestyle, so adding one healthy habit at a time and building on your progress is a good way to go. (NOTE: if you have had a heart attack or stroke, ignore me and do what your doctor tells you! If s/he says you should change many habits at once, do it! Those of us who haven’t almost died sometimes need a gradual approach because we’re lazy or stubborn or don’t think it’ll happen to us. Silly us.)

heart stress 2Here’s the list of recommendations to keep your heart healthy:

  1. Sleep 7-8 hours each night.
  2. Eat plants: Roughly half of what you eat should be plants: fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains (as in “not processed and looks like a grain”: rice, oatmeal, lentils, quinoa, etc., not bread or pasta even if they’re labeled “whole grain”.)
  3. Exercise 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week.
  4. Don’t smoke.
  5. Limit stress.

Put a check next to the ones you already do. Great job! Now look at the ones you didn’t check. Which one is the most important for you to focus on first? If you’re pre-diabetic, start with exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight, replace half of what’s on your plate with plants. If you’re too tired to change your life, start with sleep. What measurable goals can you set to get that habit rolling? What specifically can you do today?

The holidays can be a stressful time. Make time to move your body and give yourself the gift of a stress free heart.

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” (said Jesus) John 14:1

 

References:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

 

Images courtesy of: Amazon.com (stress balls), health.harvard.edu (stethoscope)

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