Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death, accounting for 15.5% of all deaths worldwide.
In the developing world, it has probably achieved that dubious honor with the help of several continuing trends. For example, there are now more ways than ever to avoid physical activity, and there are more fad diets entering the market each year.
A good diet and regular exercise are both practices that the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends to keep heart disease at bay, but poor diet and lethargy are not the only things that contribute to heart problems; the modern world and workforce toss up plenty of other causes.
You Can Stress Enough–Easily
You can probably think of at least ten sources of stress in your life without delving too deeply–traffic, family, bills, work, and more. What you might not be thinking about is what is happening to your body when those sorts of things crop up. According to the American Heart Association, stressful stimuli cause the body to release adrenaline–the chemical that triggers the “fight-or-flight” response in most mammals. Usually, this chemical helps to boost blood pressure and heart rate to help energize muscles for either escape or some kind of attack. In most stressful situations, though, there is no need for either one, and the chemical leaves you with a dangerously elevated heart rate and tense muscles for no reason.
Not so long ago, a young teenager could be called to fight in a war–surely that is more stressful than driving down the freeway or having to respond to multiple likes, comments, and friend requests over different social media platforms! However, the truth is that in our frenetic lives, there are multiple experiences every day that are synthetically triggering similar heightened stress levels due to the constant barrage of stimuli.
Because your heart is also a muscle, stress makes it tense as well. Like any tense muscles, the heart becomes tight and hard; this means that although it is trying to pump more blood, less blood can enter to be pumped. Images from the National Library of Medicine show that a stressed heart’s blood vessels can constrict by nearly fifty percent. Your heart works harder to make up for this but like any muscle, it can get tired. A tired heart means blood will circulate more slowly, and your heart may not be able to work as hard in the future.
Fuel To The Fire
Stress is bad for your heart by itself, but there is also a worrying trend among many working adults to use unhealthy means of “stress management,” such as alcohol, cigarettes, and a variety of medications. While these drugs may have an immediate calming effect, they are often harmful in the long run. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has clinically linked these drugs to the weakening of the heart and arteries. They are also statistically proven to lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, making them doubly inadvisable for anyone who cares about their heart.
What You Can Do
As most sources of stress tend to be psychological in nature, it is often possible to counter them by developing an analytical approach to stressful events and individuals. The American College of Cardiologists recommends that people devote time to identifying and removing stress from their daily life as a way to improve overall cardiovascular health.
One step that often proves elusive is asking for help, especially if several stressful events coincide. The concept of discussing problems as a way to resolve them is quite popular; asking for help when you need it could be the key to keeping both heart and mind in working order. Reach out to those around you–some of them may be suffering from the same troubles and can provide a sorely needed sympathetic ear and perhaps even insights into reducing stress in your life. Socializing has a calming effect that lessens stressful reactions in the body; you can take full advantage of this by building yourself a supporting network of friends and family to help you through troubling times.
Particularly important for those seeking to reduce stress is a thorough assessment of the workplace. Few things in the modern world are quite as stressful as trying to keep a job. Try to determine if there are particular tasks or individuals causing you undue stress. Some of the most common culprits are bossy co-workers and unrealistic deadlines–both of these can make any day seem endless and every task a hassle. Try talking to your superiors at work–there may be an employee-assistance program or counseling available to lighten your load or help you deal with the pressures. Even if there is no ordered program to be had, you can still retake control of your workplace life by taking breaks, setting yourself reasonable goals, and trying to make sure you only work on one thing at a time.
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and keep your heart healthy all at once. Exercise provides an outlet for some of the adrenaline your body is producing; by moving more muscles than just your heart, you’ll be causing the adrenaline to drain quickly and more fully rather than remain and cause adverse effects. The recommended cardio regimen is 30 to 40 minutes at least four or five times a week. Besides helping you reduce stress, there are a host of other benefits–reduced cholesterol, proven weight control, and lowered blood pressure. There are a number of programs and gadgets to help you get into fitness–try getting a pedometer and aiming for a certain step count every day or joining a running group to help keep you motivated.
- Karuga, James. “Top Ten Leading Causes Of Death In The World.” WorldAtlas, May. 7, 2018, worldatlas.com/articles/top-ten-leading-causes-of-death-in-the-world.html.