How stress impacts heart health

Stress is not just something you experience mentally, it has u significant effects on the body, particularly the cardiovascular system. Understanding how stress affects heart health is crucial for monitoring and managing cardiovascular health as you age.

Stress is a natural part of life, but there is still a lot we don’t know when it comes to the long-term effects of stress on our bodies. While it may seem like everyday stress and feelings of overwhelm are unrelated to your heart, psychological stress and the cardiovascular system are intrinsically linked to one another. Understanding the interplay between stress, psychological factors, and heart health is essential for developing effective strategies to mitigate the impact of stress on cardiovascular health.

Stress and cardiovascular health

Stress triggers the body's "fight or flight" response, leading to the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. While this response is essential for survival in acute situations, ongoing stress can lead to a sustained elevation of these stress hormones, which can have effects on the cardiovascular system. One major way that stress affects heart health is through its impact on blood pressure. Ongoing stress can cause elevated blood pressure levels, which increases the workload on the heart. Stress also influences other mechanisms that relate to cardiovascular function such as blood clotting and cholesterol.

Additionally, stress can have indirect effects on the heart, such as encouraging unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms. Stress is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle (increased caffeine intake, poor diet, smoking, increased alcohol intake), and these behaviors can contribute to poor cardiovascular health.

Oxidative stress and the heart

Oxidative stress is a significant factor that contributes to the development of poor cardiovascular health. There are millions of cellular reactions happening in the body at one time, and these reactions produce byproducts called free radicals. Free radicals are a by-product of many biochemical reactions, and while the body has its own mechanisms to keep them at bay, they can cause damage to our cells if they are not neutralized by antioxidants.

There are many reasons why the body might not have enough antioxidants to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of free radicals - from the influence of our external environment (environmental toxins, diet and lifestyle), to stress and the natural aging process. Oxidative stress is the state our body enters when the body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to counteract the damaging effects of free radicals. Maintaining the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is crucial for normal cell function, and oxidative stress has been demonstrated to contribute to accelerated aging, poor health and cardiovascular events.

From promoting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and encouraging the buildup of plaque in the arteries to creating an environment that enhances the likelihood of blood clots to form – there are many mechanisms in which oxidative stress contributes to heart health events. This is why strategies aimed to reduce oxidative stress such as eating an antioxidant rich diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and addressing psychological stress are all crucial for preserving heart health and preventing cardiovascular complications.

5 ways to reduce stress and support a healthy heart

Diaphragmatic breathing

By promoting relaxation and reducing stress hormones like cortisol, this breathing technique has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular complications. Diaphragmatic breathing optimizes oxygen delivery, enhancing the heart's metabolic efficiency and lowering the risk of cardiovascular problems. It can also help to lower resting heart rate and improve heart rate variability, both of which are indicators of heart health. Regularly practicing this breathing technique enhances stress resilience, tissue oxygenation, and autonomic nervous system function, promoting a healthier heart and reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

Address oxidative stress

Our cardiovascular system is a major player in the energy production supply chain, and to support the body effectively, it must consume large amounts of this energy. Our heart and blood vessels rely heavily on large numbers of high-performing, energy-generating mitochondria.

Because they are at the core of the energy production process, mitochondria are responsible for 90 – 95% of the free radicals in our cells and as a result, are 10 times more exposed to free radicals than most other parts of the cell. Mitochondria work hard to neutralize free radicals and keep them confined within, preventing them from escaping into the cell. Oxidative stress is the state our body is put in when the levels of antioxidants in our body are not high enough to counteract the damaging effect of free radicals. When you target the mitochondria to help reduce oxidative stress, you’re ultimately supporting your cardiovascular system.

Mitoquinol Mesylate (MitoQ) is a world-first antioxidant molecule that targets mitochondria, which are abundant in heart muscle cells and a major site of free radical production. MitoQ provides free radical defenses right inside your cells, supporting strong, healthy heart and flexible arteries. In fact, a recent clinical trial concluded that MitoQ supports arterial health by improving the bioavailability of vasodilators, greatly improving arterial dilation by 42%.

Walk more

Walking for more than 4 hours each week is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular complications and walking for an average of 30 minutes or more each day has been shown to reduce the risk of some cardiovascular complications by 35% percent. While greater increases in step count yield larger cardiovascular health benefits, research shows that even the smallest improvements in the amount of daily walking can support cardiovascular health.

Practice meditation

As a mind-body practice, meditation works by priming your attention and awareness to help cultivate wellbeing and reduce stress. Mindfulness practices like meditation act on specific parts of the brain, disrupting stress pathways which may have supportive effects on the psychological arousal systems.

Meditation has been shown to support our overall well-being in many ways, from lowering stress hormones like cortisol, to even reducing blood pressure. Some studies suggest that as little as 5 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation per day may significantly reduce stress and enhance quality of life – and the positive effects are cumulative when this practice is repeated overtime.

Moderate your caffeine consumption

As a stimulant, it’s no surprise that caffeine has a jolting effect on the nervous system. Caffeine can activate the stress response and lead to increased levels of cortisol in some people. Studies show that a moderate amount of caffeine (around 2-3 cups of coffee) can lead to significantly elevated cortisol levels quickly after consumption, and in the later hours of the day for those who continue drinking it throughout the day. While the effects of caffeine differ from person to person, if you’re interested in getting a better night’s sleep and having more sustained energy – it may pay to consider if your caffeine consumption is aligning with your goals. But if you don’t want to avoid it altogether, stick to one cup of coffee per day before 10am.

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