Lower Stress, Healthy Heart

14 heart-friendly ways to lower stress

Meditation and stress management techniques are as effective as any other approach to cardiovascular health.  As we get older, stress management is more important than ever.

According to Dr Robert Buist, Sydney complementary medicine practitioner, there’s a subgroup of cardiovascular patients who aren’t successful in lowering risk factors using lifestyle improvements like smoking, drinking, eating.  Nor does the problem appear to be genetic.  However Dr Buist says there’s one factor which all have in common.  They complain of stress.  They are often angry and frustrated by life and find it difficult to communicate their problems in emotionally healthy ways.

Unhealthy emotional habits may present as free-floating hostility, aggressiveness, competitiveness, a constant sense of urgency, impatience, constant striving for ill-defined goals, cynicism and fast, abrupt patterns of speech and movement.  Think Basil Fawlty.

For followers of the work of Drs Herbert Benson and Dean Ornish, this will ring a bell.

We’re now finding out more and more about how stress and negative emotions impact your cholesterol, not to mention your general heart health.  Research is showing that optimism, happiness and life satisfaction contribute to a healthy heart.  What’s more,  kindness, touch and social support all benefit heart health.

The way this fits the stress/cholesterol picture is that emotionally-induced chronic sympathetic nervous system overstimulation is linked with chronic, elevated cholesterol levels.  For example, Argentinian air force offices under prolonged emotional stress during the Falkland Is war were found to have significant elevation of urinary adrenaline and plasma cholesterol levels.  Other research has found these emotional states linked with increased triglycerides and the mobilization of fatty acids into the blood.  What makes the situation worse is that emotional stress puts a higher demand for antioxidant nutrients on the body, so you lose the protective edge at the same time.  Get the picture?

You can read more about this in Dr Buist’s book, Love Your Cholesterol, but for now, here are some ways to start smelling the roses, if you’re not already doing so.  By focusing more on the positive, you might be more successful than you imagine in reducing those dangerous stress hormones.

Handy Hints for Stress Reduction

Siestas: A study from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2007 involving 24,000 subjects found nappers to have a 34% reduced risk of heart disease.

 Breathe deeply: slow abdominal breathing activates the vagus nerve and triggers a relaxation response.  Learn more about how simple breathing techniques can lower stress.

Sing or hum: both release endorphins which reduce stress.  Playing and listening to music reduce stress through a variety of mechanisms.  Try a drumming workshop.

Get a massage or a reflexology treatment.  Give yourself a foot massage.

Enjoy the company of your pet, or spend time with someone else’s.  Pet owners have been shown to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  The presence of a pet has been proven to lower blood pressure and cortisol, as well as increasing happy hormones like oxytocin.  Even a fish tank can be therapeutic.

Laugh.  You’ll trigger the type of endorphins to help relax your blood vessels.

Spend time in nature.  Become a park walker, a gardener, a beach bum.  Research shows even brief bursts of exposure to the natural world lower stress markers such as heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.  And while you’re at it, make sure you go barefoot sometimes.  Cardiologist, Stephen Sinatra, regards “grounding” (being in direct contact with the earth) as the most important discovery he has encountered in many years of medical practice.

Rescue Remedy:  Energy medicine?  Interestingly it works well for kids and animals (and some human adults if they have an open mind). 

Aromatherapy: lavender baths, frankincense, sandalwood.  Research indicates that ylang ylang decreases blood pressure and increases skin temperature. Subjects rated themselves more calm and relaxed than controls.  (1)

Try yoga.  Inverse postures, ie. raising legs above heart, are an example of how yoga may help lower cortisol levels.

Resperate: medically-approved technology to manage breathing for lowering blood pressure and reducing stress

Learn about mindfulness.  You could start by reading The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle or explore some of the many online resources like Dr Rick Hanson’s Just One Minute :http://justoneminute.net

Practice gratitude.  Keep a diary of the things you enjoy and the things you appreciate, however small.  Note the kindnesses you have received and those you have offered to others.

Smell the roses.  They contain a chemical called linalool, which really can help lower stress.  It’s that mixture of floral with a touch of spice.  You can also get a stress-lowering effect from lavender, mint, lemon, mango, bergamot and many, many more.












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