The Effects of a Bad Economy on Heart Health—and How to Reduce your Risk, from Harvard Medical School

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Stress can be hard on the heart, but prevention is possible.

Stress can be hard on the heart—including the stress of financial problems or a demanding job. A newly revised Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease, describes ways to cope with stress and protect your heart—whether the stress is financial or from another source.

New research has identified financial stress as particularly hard on the heart. For example, heart attacks rose as the stock market crashed in 2008 and 2009. And a 2011 study found a nearly 70% higher risk of heart disease among people who worked an average of 11 hours per weekday, compared with those who worked seven to eight hours per day.

On the other hand, just as increased stress can harm the heart, learning how to cope with stress may be able to help it. Here are just a few of the tips for coping with stress found in Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease:

  •     Get enough sleep. Lack of sound sleep can affect your mood and physical health.
  •     Exercise. Physical activity alleviates stress, reduces your risk of becoming depressed, and improves your heart health.
  •     Learn relaxation techniques. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and yoga are mainstays of stress relief. Check with your local hospital, community center, or gym to see if they offer classes.
  •     Nurture yourself. Truly savor the pleasant experiences of life, such as eating a delicious food or taking a walk. For example, focus on each bite of that orange, or soak up the warm rays of the sun during a walk outdoors.
  •     Cultivate friendships. Having friends you can do relaxing activities with and talk to can be extremely helpful in blowing off steam.

A modest but encouraging body of scientific evidence shows that learning to de-stress has cardiovascular benefits, such as lowering blood pressure. And people who had heart disease who took part in programs that combined healthy eating, exercising, and stress management appeared to have better cardiac function afterwards, though more study is needed to confirm these results.

Also in this report:

  •     Reducing your risk factors for heart disease
  •     Diagnosing heart problems
  •     Medications and procedures for the heart

Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease is available for $18 from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School. Order it online at http://www.health.harvard.edu/Heart2011 or by calling 877–649–9457 (toll-free).

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Raquel Schott
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