Healthy Living

Bust Stress for a Better Ticker, Lower Stroke Risk

Oct. 23, 2014
Deadlines. Dumb drivers. Tumbling stock prices. Little Jimmy in trouble at school again. Smartphone slavery.
Stress, anyone?
man experiencing stress
You know you need to tame it; it’s a foundation for good overall health. But did you know that smart stress management can reap more than peace of mind? Recent research suggests that short-fused Type-As might face double the stroke risk of their more relaxed peers. 
UR Medicine stroke care specialists Dr. Curt Benesch and Dr. Amrendra Miranpuri warn that the forecast gets grimmer for people living with chronic stress—say, caring for an elderly parent, or working beneath a toxic boss. Stroke risk for these people quadrupled.
Stress taxes the body. It slows wound healing, weakens immunity, and raises blood pressure. Making matters worse, many time-saving, stress-coping strategies—like drive-thru dinners and skipping the gym—only compound that damage.
Stress shapes lifestyles that put people at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. So, what can you do? 
Try these stress-busting moves:
  • Stop smoking. That cigarette break might provide a much-needed time-out, but it’s wreaking havoc on your heart, which works hard to ferry oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body. Nicotine robs precious oxygen from the heart, thickens vein and artery walls, and increases harmful clotting.
  • Start sweating. Always on the run, but not actually running? Reconsider the power of a jaunt on the treadmill or a stroll 'round the block. Exercise produces positive endorphins, improves heart function, and lowers cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Breathe deeper. Whether it’s your favorite radio station paired with a scented candle, or Saturday morning yoga, find 30 minutes a day to unwind. Those deep lungfuls trigger a soothing chain reaction that lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, giving your body a much-needed break.
  • Savor “slow food.” That mocha shake and side of fries are timesavers in the short run. But they’re packed with sugar, salt, saturated fats, and cholesterol that might shave years off your life. Make time on the weekends to plan meals for the coming week. Actively prepping your food gives you total control over ingredients. 
  • Say no. If your schedule’s crazy—and whose isn’t?—you need to start saying “no.” Letting go of even a couple commitments lets you say yes to that hour at the gym—or the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to prep a nutritious meal.
  • Sleep. It’s tempting to make up lost daytime by burning the midnight oil, but your bed beckons. And for good reason: Researchers recently found that getting a good seven hours of sleep amplifies the benefit of all the other smart choices you made during the day, cutting risk for heart and blood vessel disease even more.
It’s hard to pinpoint how stress might prime a person for heart attack or stroke, but a less-hectic, more-margin lifestyle is definitely linked health habits that keep your heart and vessels lithe and fit.
That said, even the healthiest of us is liable to suffer a fatal heart attack or stroke, and minutes matter. It’s critical that you know the warning signs. 
Click here to learn more about the signs of stroke.
Curtis Benesh, MD
Curt Benesch, M.D., is medical director of the Strong Memorial Hospital Comprehensive Stroke Center. UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital has been recognized by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, which places UR Medicine among an elite group of institutions that provide highly-specialized complex stroke care.