Most of us know the statistic “Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the U.S.”, says John M. Kennedy, MD, author of the 15 Minute Heart Cure. ” Women are constantly told to get mamograms and Pap smears, but they’re rarely advised to see an internist and get their heart disease risks evaluated.” And while many of us are aware of risk factors like family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, one prime trigger we tend to overlook is stress. Which is why Dr. Kennedy notes that a stress test can be an important heart-health evaluation tool, along with the other usual physiological tests. If you aren’t convinced to take care of your heart, consider recent research that points directly at working moms.
WORK AND WORRY
Women who report high job stress have a 40 percent higher risk for cardiovascular disease than their lower-stress peers, according to the recent landmark Harvard Women’s Health Study.
How does stress lead to cardiac problems? There are direct and indirect toxic effects of stress, according to Dr. Kennedy. Emotional stress stimulates your “fight or flight response,” which triggers the flow of stress hormones. Too much stress, too many hormones that may trigger direct effects including increased blood pressure, heart rate and inflammation in the body-all of which can fuel heart issues. Indirect effects result from eating more, exercising less, excessive drinking and especially smoking in response to stressful situations. “Learning how to cope and relax is what’s important for keeping your heart healthy.”
Reduce your risk by trying these small life improvements:
Turn off stress- If you can solve or avoid a stressful situation, do it. Talk out a conflict with your boss or colleague rather than stifling frustrations. Set a time to shut off your BlackBerry in the evening so you have a peaceful period with no work worries.
Cultivate a healthy chill- Grabbing a snack from the vending machine or having a drink after work with friends might ease stress temporarily, but neither choice is health smart. A recommended chill choice is the brief relaxation routine Dr. Kennedy advocates in his book called the B-R-E-A-T-H-E technique ( Begin, Relax, Envision, Apply, Treat, Heal, End). It combines guided imagery, breathing work and meditation to promote relaxation, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and sharpen focus and concentration. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi also focus on breathing for relaxation and to decrease cardiac risk.
Be sociable- “Social isolation increases cardiac risk, so connecting with friends and family-both in person and online-can help keep stress levels down and your heart healthier.”
Get symptom smart- “People who are educated about the signs of heart illness live longer because they’re aware of their own bodies, recognize changes and know when to go to a doctor to ask for help,” says Dr. Raza. Women’s heart attack symptoms are often different than men’s, so you may miss key signs. “Women are prone to milder symptoms,” adds Dr. Mieres. Chest pain, unexplained fatigue, back pain, shortness of breath and decreased exercise capacity can all indicate heart problems.
Stand up and move- When you exercise, your heart works harder to pump blood faster and therefore becomes stronger. Not only does aerobic activity have a direct effect on your cardiac health, it also contributes to weight loss, which can decrease your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart problems. Simply by biking to work instead of driving, parking your car farther from your destination and taking stairs as often as possible, you can get aerobic benefit. “A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is key to a heart-healthy weight,” says Dr. Mieres. Lifting your baby or your dog is also helpful if you don’t have time for the gym.
Rest up- People who get fewer than six hours of sleep a night are almost 50 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who get more sleep, revealed a recent study in the European Heart Journal. Sleep deprivation, like stress, is often unavoidable for working mothers who put in extra evening hours on their laptops and early-morning hours prepping kids for school, but it would be beneficial for your health to shut off the PC or TV at night to get in at least six hours of shut-eye. People who are sleep deprived tend to eat more, which can lead to obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Eat for your life- Remind yourself that omega-3 fatty acids like those in salmon and other fatty fish help decrease cholesterol, whole grains may lower blood pressure and decrease cardiac risk, and fresh produce provides heart-healthy antioxidants, potassium, folate and fiber. If your blood pressure is high, avoid the saltshaker and high-sodium processed foods. Bring fruits and vegetables to work for snacks so you have sweet and crunchy alternatives to junk food.
So if you want more energy and a healthy life, especially for your family, try these little tips. Taking care of yourself is important and when you are healthy and refreshed, it makes it a little easier to take care of the loved ones in your life.
Peace, love and light to you all!
Information is provided by Ilisa Cohen