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Is stress as bad as smoking for your heart?

By on Dec 27, 2012

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Stress has always been viewed as being bad for our health and a new study has highlighted the damage that it can have on the heart. Stress is linked with many illnesses such as depression, heart disease and alopecia. Managing levels of stress can have a dramatic improvement on both mental and physical health.

Stress has always been viewed as being bad for our health and a new study has highlighted the damage that it can have on the heart. Stress is linked with many illnesses such as depression, heart disease and alopecia. Managing levels of stress can have a dramatic improvement on both mental and physical health.

Is stress as bad as smoking for your heart?Researchers analysed six studies involving nearly 120,000 people who were simply asked, “How stressed do you feel?” or “how often are you stressed?” The participants responded either with high or low. Researchers then followed them for 14 years to analyse the number of heart attacks and deaths from heart disease in the two groups.

The group that had the highest perceived stress levels were 27 per cent more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease. The study author Safiya Richardson, MD said, “These findings are significant because they are applicable to nearly everyone.”  She continued to say the key message from this study is that how people feel plays an important part in their heart health.  Reducing levels of stress in any way can have a direct impact on improving heart function.

The results from this study found that high stress levels have been linked with increased LDL cholesterol levels by 2.8mmol/l, and an increase in blood pressure of 2.7/1.4mmHg. Healthy LDL cholesterol levels are below 2mmol/l, and the ideal blood pressure is 120/80mmHg. Stress can affect the levels quite drastically, and yet it can be removed without the need of medication. Dr Donald Edmundson, co-author of the study and assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Columbia University Centre likened these effects from stress to smoking five more cigarettes a day.

“While we do not know for certain why there appears to be an association between age and the effect of perceived stress on CHD, we think that stress may be compounding over time. For example, someone who reports high perceived stress at age 60 may also have felt high stress at ages 40 and 50, as well.” Dr. Edmondson also noted that older individuals tend to have worse CHD risk factors such as hypertension to begin with, and that stress may interact with those risk factors to produce CHD events.

“The next step is to conduct randomised trials to assess whether broad population-based measures to decrease stress are cost-effective. Further research should look at whether the stress that people report is about actual life circumstances (e.g. moving or care-giving), or about stable personality characteristics (e.g., type A vs. B), said Dr. Edmondson.

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