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With American Heart Month upon us, it’s important to remember that a poor diet and inadequate exercise are not the only factors that can contribute to poor heart health. There are the risk factors that we are all familiar with like smoking or having a family history, but there are others that have a common thread and it might surprise you.


Stress can be a huge player in an immeasurable number of health conditions but did you realize it is at the root of so many of the risk factors for heart disease? Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts your energy supplies. Cortisol, our primary stress hormone, increases sugar in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.  When we are in a stressful situation, our bodies already know exactly what to do to outfit us in the best possible way to conquer that situation. But what happens when we are constantly stressed? What happens when our bodies react to stress even when action is not necessary? It means dangerous things for our heart and vessels when they are overworked all the time.


Studies have found links to several specific activities and the development of heart disease. Did you know that sitting in traffic regularly is bad for your ticker? The stress of prolonged traffic overtime can actually increase your chances of developing heart disease. Time to turn on some of your favorite soothing music.

Our interpersonal relationships can play a big role in our heart health too. Being in an unhappy relationship can increase stress to your heart but on the flip side so can being lonely all the time. Studies suggest that having no positive human contact can stimulate stress hormone production in our bodies leading to overstimulation of our hearts. Being broken hearted is a real and powerful thing.  


Taking care of your body is not just eating right and exercise. As a matter of fact, sitting is considered the new smoking. Even if you exercise for an hour every single day, sitting too long for the remainder of the time can be detrimental to your heart. Prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to the production of those nasty stress hormones in your body so get up and move around as much as you can. Research has even shown that some of the bacteria associated with gum disease is linked to an increased threat for heart disease. When it comes to your ears, folks who suffer from high frequency hearing loss are at a 2 times greater risk to develop heart disease. This might be partially due to stimulation of those nasty stress hormones. 


Sleep conditions can stimulate those stress hormones as well. Whether you are one suffering from insomnia or sleep apnea or not, conditions like these can adversely affect the natural sleep cycles of everyone in the house. It’s recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night and prolonged interruption of this can affect a lot more than just your mood the next day.


 A good diet and regular exercise might not be enough for some folks with preset risk factors like thyroid disease or a family history of heart disease. One of the most important things that we can all do is our homework. Knowing what risk factors you have due to your own and your family medical history is key. Knowing what your numbers are is another important tool. Without knowing what your heart rate normally is, how can you know when something is different?


Don’t forget the word moderation. This is huge for heart health. Dark Chocolate in moderation is good for you because it contains antioxidants that are believed to help lower blood pressure and improve circulation. Drinking coffee can also improve circulation. Even drinking alcohol, in moderation, has been linked to a healthier heart. Some research shows that the incidence of heart disease in moderate drinkers is lower than that of non-drinkers. Perhaps that has something to do with stress reduction.


With stress being the common denominator between so many life threatening conditions and also being the common denominator between so many heart disease risk factors, it should be no surprise that exercise is linked to well-being. Aside from keeping that mid-section smaller, exercise is a great stress reducer. Not all exercise is made the same. Exercises, like yoga, can be particular beneficial for stress because it slows us down, helps us focus and the stretching of certain muscles can relief built up tension.


In the Recreation department, there are a dozen different yoga classes available on a weekly basis, including a new Intro to Yoga Clinic beginning this Friday, February 2nd. This class will be a six session clinic to help kick start your journey to improved flexibility and balance while increasing your Zen. This class will take place on Mondays and Fridays at 4 pm at the Wellness Center and while you are here, you can grab one of our class schedules to see all the other awesome classes we offer. 


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