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Q and A: How stress puts your heart health at risk

February 10, 2017

Steven Lupovitch, M.D., cardiologist

What does stress do to the heart?

Common everyday stress can impact heart health and aggravate high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, which are common risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Stress produces adrenaline, which increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and sugar levels, and boosts energy supplies. Also, people who are under a lot of stress aren’t eating properly. Their cholesterol goes up, as well as their weight. They aren’t exercising. And for all too many people, smoking is a way of relieving stress. What we need to do each day is wage a battle against the risk factors that complicate and destroy our hearts.

How can people live a heart-healthy lifestyle?

The first and most important thing to do is have a plan. Address risk factors head on. Accept that because of those risk factors, such as high blood pressure, there are many things you cannot do, but there are also things you should be doing. Have an ongoing conversation with your family to know these are things you need to be doing to control your blood pressure. Take responsibility for yourself. Know the problem, but take it by the horns and control it. Involve others in your decision too. For example, it’s very difficult to follow a strict diet when no one else around you is doing it. Help them help you by involving them in the healthier lifestyle changes you make. Share your successes and understand your missteps so that together you can make improvements.

What can people do to take control of their risks?

Know your numbers! Know your blood pressure. If you’re treated for blood pressure, you should have a blood pressure monitor and use it regularly. If you have diabetes or are at risk for developing the disease, you should know your blood sugar level. Know your cholesterol level, what the different aspects of cholesterol mean, as well as your specific targets for improved cholesterol. Also know your medications, what they are supposed to do and why they are being prescribed. Change the things that can be changed to help you live better.

Dr. Lupovitch’s secrets to a happy heart:

  • Stop relying on cigarettes to relax.
  • Plan your meals and enjoy them. Last-minute decisions are often bad ones.
  • Scan the restaurant menu before you order and make heart-healthy choices. Split portions.
  • Exercise as often as you can, and try to enjoy it.
  • Take your medications as a habit, not as a chore.
  • Lastly, find a way to relax every day.