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Valentine’s Day commercials, sales, and promos will often portray the heart as a symbol of love and happiness. But February is also National Heart Month—a time to put the health of your heart into greater focus.
Heart health challenges affect a vast amount of the population and are the leading health concern in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, it costs the United States over $100% million a year in health care services, medications, and loss of productivity. Focusing on the heart shouldn’t just happen one month a year, however. Your heart is your companion for life. Ensuring a healthy heart starts at a young age and continues through adulthood into your elderly years.
Heart health would be much simpler if there was one single way of supporting it. However, as the engine of your body, the heart is connected to many different important functions in your body. Because of this, it can be influenced—in both positive and negative ways—from your body’s other systems. Blood pressure, diet, exercise, blood sugar, weight management, cholesterol, and stress cultivating a healthy heart is a balance of motivation, prevention, and diligence—making sure you are trying to make the right choices for a healthy future.
With so many areas to focus on when it comes to your heart, we want to focus on one of the most important factors influencing your long term heart health, stress. Like death and taxes, stress is a constant throughout your lifetime. Sometimes, everything doesn’t always go as planned; whether your car breaks down, you lose your job, or you can’t find your favorite pair of socks, there are all types of stressful situations, and everyone handles them differently.
Handling stress in the wrong way can lead to behaviors that negatively affect your heart. How do you handle stress? Under stress, do you answer yes to any of the following?
If you answer yes to a few of these, it could mean that you are not dealing with stress in the right way. Being under stress or dealing with stressful situations can set off a chain reaction within your body. Adrenaline is released as part of your “fight or flight” response, elevating your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.
Stress can also lead to overeating and unhealthy eating, as well as induce bad decisions in attempts at stress management. Managing stress, therefore, is important.
The effects of stress and how it relates to are currently undergoing many studies. But there are already proven ways in which you can manage stress to prevent long-term damage and potential heart disease. Exercise and diet—two staples that every expert agrees are at the core of good heart health—should be at the heart (pun very much intended) of creating good daily habits. Consistent exercise—at least 150 minutes of cardio per week—can be done in a variety of ways that is adaptive to all ages and athletic levels.
Eating habits can change as a result of constant stress, causing undereating, overeating, and poor choices in food. It’s the same with exercise—stress can zap your energy, hurt your sleeping patterns, and slow you down in general. It’s somewhat of a conundrum; exercise helps keep stress away, but stress can keep you from having the energy to exercise.
Even with all the modern medicine available in the world, we still can’t find the secret to alleviating stress. The truth lies in your behavioral reactions and response choices from stressful situations. Understanding how you deal with stress, and the decisions you make will affect the behaviors that can dictate a healthy or unhealthy heart. Take the time this month to learn what you can do to give your heart a healthy outlook it deserves.