Stress, the silent intruder that lurks in the corners of our busy lives, can have a significant impact on our heart health. Stress is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), with a 2020 study highlighting this correlation – when stress becomes chronic, our bodies enter a state of constant alertness, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which, over time, can contribute to inflammation and increase our risk of CVD.  

Beyond the physical toll, stress can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor dietary habits and lack of exercise, further exacerbating heart health concerns. It’s a vicious cycle, but the good news is that understanding this connection empowers individuals to break free. 

The Prevalence of CVD 

According to The Heart Foundation, CVD is a leading cause of death in Australia, affecting more than 4 million Australian’s. CVD is responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths and kills 40% more men compared to women. The prevalence of CVD underscores the importance of proactive measures such as stress management and adopting heart-healthy lifestyles, to mitigate the risk factors associated with CVD. 

How to Better Manage Your Stress  

Addressing stress isn’t just about feeling better mentally; it’s about safeguarding your heart health. Research has demonstrated that individuals who actively manage their stress using meditation-based programs exhibit lower blood pressure and reduced several other CVD risk factors. 

Here are some other simple steps you can take to cultivate a stress-resilient heart. 

1. Mindful Breathing:  

Breathe work is a simple and effective tool that you can incorporate into your day, that has been found to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. The ‘box-breathing’ method is one of the most popular methods by which you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 second, exhale for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat this up to 8 times.  

2. Regular Exercise:  

Physical activity is a powerful stress buster that also has many heart health benefits. The physical activity guidelines state adults should be doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day. Whether it’s a brisk walk, swim, run or a quick workout at the gym, find an activity that you enjoy and commit to it regularly. 

3. Nutrition Matters:  

Often when we are stressed, we reach for convenient, highly processed foods or caffeinated beverages that are rich in carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fat to give us a quick release of energy. However, these foods cause inflammation in our bodies, with high levels of saturated fat intake associated with an increased risk of CVD. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and lean proteins and low in alcohol and caffeine is not only neuroprotective, but it has also been well researched for its heart health benefits. You can find more information on heart healthy eating here.  

4. Quality Sleep:  

Prioritise the quality and quantity of your sleep. When we are stressed, one of the first things that goes out the window is sleep, which then can often increase our stress, resulting in a vicious cycle. One way to ensure quality sleep is through the practice of good sleep hygiene. Download our Sleep Routine Guide here. Aim for 7-9 hours of unbroken sleep each night. 

5. Connect with Others:  

Research supports the benefits of fostering meaningful connections with friends, family, or colleagues as a buffer against the negative effects of stress. Organise a weekly catch-up with family or friends, join a local community group or start a workplace sports team.