How Stress Affects Your Heart


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Doctors have called stress the “greatest ager of your body" and even though we don't fully understand exactly how stress accelerates the aging process, the connection is obvious.

An 800-patient study done at New York Methodist hospital in Brooklyn, New York found that the incidence of heart attacks rose 35 percent in the two months following the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001. And it wasn't just heart attacks that rose, either. Other heart-related complaints rose as well. The number of heart arrhythmia complaints rose a full 40 percent in the same time period.

Heart attacks are associated with catecholamines, stress hormones produced by the body. When you experience psychological or emotional stress your catecholamine levels rise. This causes both your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. If you have an existing heart condition, this rise in heart rate and blood pressure can push you dangerously close to a full-blown heart attack.

But it's not just sudden, dramatic stress that puts you at risk. “Everyday" stress like commuting in heavy traffic, a demanding boss or even just the morning rush to get your kids out the door on time can dramatically raise your catecholamine levels. To protect yourself, it's important to learn how to let go of that stress.

One of the most effective ways to deal with stress is exercise. Regular exercise helps you balance your mood by encouraging your body to releases hormones that ease depression, pain and fatigue.

Another highly effective stress reducer is meditation. Whether it's a Catholic rosary, a Hindu chant or a simple Buddhist meditation, people who practice meditative exercises show markedly lower stress responses than those who don't. A 2004 study looking at meditation in teenage boys found that the boys reported lowered blood pressure, enhanced concentration, less anger and improved interpersonal relationships after only four months of daily meditation.

Regardless of how you choose to manage your stress, it's clear that science will only find more links between stress and heart health.

Lisa Barger is a traditional naturopath specializing in natural health education. To learn more about Ms. Barger's belief in "Empowerment through Education" or to take a free online natural health class see her website,

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