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  • Juanita Weaver-Reiss

How does stress affect your heart and health?

I am going to start with the ending point and then talk about the why of doing that. It is very important to have a stress reduction or a stress management program in place. Stress, chronic stress that is, is very harmful to the body as a whole. Stress can also affect your heart health.

I didn't used to think about how I reacted to things as much. I know that stresses were there. In fact, I am sure that some of the ways my body reacted to those stresses probably was a direct result of circumstances handled well or not so well.

I am talking about stress and the bad kind of stress.

Everyone has that in their lives. You have a bad day at work. You have a disagreement with someone. Even trying to do a good job and thinking about other things that you could have done or should have done can make you feel stressed.

But how does that work? What happens in the body when I feel stressed.

It all starts in the hypothalamus, in the brain. It is a physical response to outside stimuli. The body and brain perceive that there is an attack happening and reacts to either "fight or run away" from whatever is stressing us.

A flood of hormones are sent out - Cortisol and epinephrine gear the body up to take action.

These send a variety of physical repsonses that a person would describe to others as the symptoms of being stressed. Rapid heart beat, rapid breathing, tight muscles, feeling anxious, and so on.

You may say, so what. What is the big deal? So I am under a lot of stress. What does that have to do with anything, especially my cholesterol levels?

Stress can influence your cholesterol, as well as other health factors such as your glucose levels.

It can do this in a variety of ways.

1st - You could potentially choose less healthy foods because of your stress level. So instead of eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, you reach for the doughnut or chips to give yourself some comfort.

2nd - You may opt not be to be as physically active. I am under a lot of stress and really just need to sit and relax instead of going for that walk.

3rd - The combination of these reactions to stress may lead to weight gain.

There is a physical response to stress also. It is those hormones that signal the stress and the cascade effect that happens. The body, when it is under stress, is primed for some type of action. I am either going to fight what is there or I am going to run away from it. To do these tasks, the body pumps out more glucose and fat into the bloodstream. These would be used for fuel. Cell doors to muscles are shut to prevent the glucose from being taken up by the muscles - Insulin resistance.

Cholesterol levels can be raised from the excess fatty acids that are not used for energy.

With prolonged stress, a person can have fat accumulate in the belly area. This is not good for the body or a person's health. The fat that is present in the belly is an active kind of fat. This fat releases compounds called adipokines that continually stimulate your body's stress signals. It tells the brain to release more cortisol even though the levels of cortisol are already high in the body. This cycle causes more inflammation and more belly fat to accumulate.

This is also the kind of fat that makes it more difficult for insulin to open the cell doors so the glucose can be taken out of the blood.

Stress can harm the heart in other ways. But in essence, stress, especially chronic stress can harm the body and the heart.

Putting stress reduction techniques into place is important for overall health, but especially to protect the heart.

The whole take away from this post would be to get some type of stress reduction or stress management program into place.

I have included in previous posts ways to reduce stress.

These are not the only tools that you can use to help you manage stress. Other resources might be YouTube - type in meditation or relaxation in the search bar.

You may want to talk to your health care provider about your stress and ways to manage it better. You may want to talk to your diabetes educator about stress and come up with a plan together.

Take action and look for ways to de-stress to protect your heart and your health.

I wish you Best Health,


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