How stress can impact your heart’s health

Heart Health
Feb 25, 2020

Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Lanham offers seven tips to keep your heart healthy

A looming deadline at work; broken down vehicle; family drama – we all go through stressful moments and react to it in different ways. How much stress you experience and how you react to it can have an impact on your health, including your heart.

More research is needed to determine the direct impact on stress and heart disease. However, researchers know there is a clear indirect impact on the heart due to stress.

Dr. Jonathan Lanham, cardiologist

“We know people that have a lot of stress tend to have higher blood pressure and cholesterol,” says Dr. Jonathan Lanham, a cardiologist with St. Joseph’s/Candler Physician Network- SouthCoast Cardiology. “They are more likely to smoke, drink and not get physical activity and that ends up indirectly leading to a higher propensity for heart disease.”

Additionally, some people may experience headaches, back aches or stomach pains due to stress. Stress also can zap your energy, disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling moody, forgetful or even out of control.

And who wants to eat right or exercise when all these symptoms and emotions are occurring?

“When you get stressed out the last thing you focus on is what you are eating, how much you are exercising,” Dr. Lanham says. “You get that tub of ice cream and turn on Netflix and zone out.”

Others may turn to heavy alcohol use or smoking to deal with stress.

But there are better ways to deal with stress that are also good for your heart.

Dr. Lanham does not treat stress, but he does advise his patients to manage it, and if stress, anxiety or depression seem severe enough, he does recommend professional help.

One of the best ways to reduce stress is to stay physically active, Dr. Lanham says. The recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate to rigorous activity a week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

“There are studies that show people who get moderate amounts of physical activity compared to people who don’t have less bad mental health days per month,” Dr. Lanham says. “People generally have better moods and better outlooks when they exercise compared to people who don’t.”

Other things you can do to manage stress include:

  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Develop close friendships and talk to friends and family often
  • Learn some relaxation techniques such as meditation
  • Seek professional help if needed

Managing stress and improving your heart’s health have a lot in common. In the end, it comes down to something Dr. Lanham teaches all his patients: Life’s Simple 7, a list of lifestyle changes developed by the American Heart Association for achieving excellent cardiovascular health.

  1. Manage blood pressure
  2. Control cholesterol
  3. Reduce blood sugar
  4. Get active
  5. Eat better
  6. Lose weight
  7. Stop smoking

“I like to say the heart is like the body’s foundation and when that starts to crumble, everything starts to go south too. It’s really important that you focus on these seven things,” Dr. Lanham says. “Yes, they can help with stress and lowering your risk of heart disease, but they help with so many other things such as blood sugar, diabetes, our kidneys and eye sight. It’s globally healthy.”

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