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Your Stress Could Give You a Heart Attack. Here’s How to Fight It

Stress affects cholesterol

It’s well known that stress is bad for you, to say the least. On top of decreasing our quality of life in the present, stress can have negative long-term implications for our health and well-being. But perhaps one of the most alarming things about stress is how it can send your bad cholesterol levels skyrocketing, which puts you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke. Today I want to talk about stress, how it affects your cholesterol and how you can make your stress more manageable.

How Stress Affects Cholesterol

Cholesterol isn’t all bad. Cholesterol itself is a waxy, fatty substance produced by your liver and found in all cells in your body. You need cholesterol to deliver important hormones throughout the body and to help you digest food. This is known as “good” cholesterol (HDL). When “bad” cholesterol (LDL) increases it builds up in your arteries, which hinders (or blocks completely) the flow of blood to your heart and brain. When this happens, your heart and brain cannot function, leading to heart attack or stroke.

So what role does stress play in increasing bad cholesterol? Doctors agree that it’s not so much about how much stress you have. It’s about how you deal with it. Pent up anger, frustration, irritability, etc., due to stress can cause LDLs to overproduce while HDLs decrease. Again, this surplus of LDLs will eventually cause plaque to build up in your arteries, preventing the flow of blood to your brain and heart.

What You Can Do About It

If you want to avoid elevating your cholesterol levels, it might be time to figure out how to manage your stress more effectively. Fortunately you can make a few easy changes in your life right now that will allow you to manage your stress levels.

Exercise. Regular exercise increases blood flow, increases the flow of endorphins, strengthens your heart and improves your overall health. The increased blood flow and heart rate elevation especially helps to give you a healthy outlet for your frustration. Start by incorporating a 10-15 minute walk after work each day and watch your stress melt away.

Meditate. Meditation is highly regarded stress reducer because it’s been shown to lessen the production of stress hormones. Get double the benefits with a meditation-focused exercise like yoga or tai chi.

Get a massage. Massage therapy activates the “relaxation response”, a state of deep tranquility and rest that is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response caused by stress. Treat yourself to 60 minutes of “me-time” once a month for the good of your stress levels.

Laugh more. Laughing has been proven to ignite and then deactivate the “fight or flight” response. This sudden change in heart rate and blood pressure releases that relaxed feeling you’re probably familiar with after a good, hard laugh. In moments of stress, look up your favorite comedian on YouTube or call up a friend who you know can brighten your mood with a chuckle.

Stress might be inevitable for most of us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t combat it in a healthy way and keep heart attacks and strokes at bay.

Suzanne Schaper is a Board Certified Massage Therapist serving Lenexa and Overland Park, KS. She loves sharing her knowledge for health and wellness with her customers. "A life free of pain and disease is a more full life." Suzanne enjoys assisting her customers in their pursuit of health and happiness.

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