Managing stress to reduce your risk for heart disease

Health effects of stress

Stress is a common fact of life these days. It can be caused by an anything from an unplanned flat tire when you are running late to worrying about losing your job. The reality is that most people feel stress continuously throughout the day and this can negatively affect your health.

Stress can cause a person to have an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, digestive issues such as ulcers, and overeating, but it can also cause people to drink excessive alcohol or smoke cigarettes to “manage stress.”

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more research is needed on exactly how stress contributes to heart disease–which still tops the list as the number one killer of Americans.

What can we do to manage stress?

Take a lesson from University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center cardiologist and Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, Michael Muellerleile, MD, to get outside, unplug from the world for a few days, and just enjoy being out in nature.

“Exercise, relaxation, deep breathing, socializing with friends and family are all ways you can help reduce stress in your life,” says Dr. Muellerleile.

By his own admission, Dr. Muellerleile doesn’t exercise on a regular basis. His diet is fairly healthy thanks, he says, to his wife’s healthy cooking–but he munches on cheese and won’t turn away from a good burger.

Still, he says, he remains in pretty good heart health. His secret: Get rid of stress and stress factors.

“I like to hike, that’s where I get my exercise,” Muellerleile says. “We go on vacation to exercise, that’s what we do.”

“Exercise vacations” have taken his family to Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

“We walk every day for hours and hours,” he says. “It’s about the peacefulness of being outdoors. It’s very stress-relieving.”

Muellerleile says he also works to keep certain stressors out of his life – he’s not on any kind of social media, and if someone needs to contact him he prefers a call over a text.

“I probably wouldn’t be able to text back,” he says.

Last reviewed: 
January 2018

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