Stress is an inevitable part of
our everyday life. Contrary to popular belief, stress is not always bad. It
triggers the activation of fight-or-flight response. The right amount of stress
can get your adrenaline going, stimulate and motivate you to be alert and pump
you up with positive energy.
But, the down side is that too much stress could
be detrimental to your health. It can cause you to feel tense, anxious,
irritable or overwhelmed. Your body reacts to stress by increasing your muscle
tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Over a period of time unmanaged stress
could cause bigger health problems such as damage to the arteries, increase in
cholesterol levels, and development of heart disease.
Coronary heart disease (CHD)
occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart,
causing narrowing of the arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits,
which accumulates in the arteries over a period of time.
A new meta-analysis of six studies conducted by researchers
at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and published in the recent
edition of American Journal of Cardiology
is supposedly the first of its kind to show that perceived stress raises heart disease risk
. Nearly 120,000 people
participated in this study.
The participants were asked questions about their
perceived stress, for example, ("How stressed do you feel?" or
"How often are you stressed?"), and they were asked to rate them on a
scale of 0 to 4 (0 = never, 4 = very often). Based on the response of high or
low stress scores, they were separated into two groups. The participants were
followed for 14 years to track the number of heart attacks and compare between
two groups, those with low perceived stress and high perceived stress.
Results demonstrated that people with high
perceived stress were found to be 27 per cent more likely to suffer from
incident coronary heart disease or coronary heart disease mortality.
The researchers added that high stress was found
to have the same effect on blood pressure as smoking five cigarettes a day.
Senior author Donald Edmondson, PhD, assistant professor of
behavioral medicine at CUMC said "This is the most precise estimate of that
relationship, and it gives credence to the widely held belief that general stress
is related to heart health".
Safiya Richardson, MD, co-author
of the study, said "These findings are significant because they are
applicable to nearly everyone; the key takeaway is that how people feel is
important for their heart health, so anything they can do to reduce stress may
improve their heart health in the future."
The researchers further analyzed people aged 43 to 74 years
to find the underlying relationship between stress and CHD. They found that
while gender was not a significant factor, age was. They found that among older
people, the relationship between stress and CHD was stronger. The researchers
concluded that the combination of stress and other factors like high blood
pressure that become more common with aging may be what's contributing to the
higher rates of heart disease.
Edmondson also stated that further research should be done
to see whether the stress that people report is about actual life circumstances
or just related to type A and type B personality types.
Take charge of your mind and body
and try to minimize day-to-day stress. Try and
focus on the things that you can control, you will feel more empowered and
stress levels will automatically decrease. The more you do to find
healthy ways of managing stress today, the better your heart and life will be.