Managing Heart Health
Changing the way you handle stress can save your heart
By Karen Einisman
Juggling the day-to-day demands of life can be overwhelming at times. There’s your work, your family, your community obligations. And they are all pulling you in different directions. It may sound trite, but having it all is hard. It can be very stressful.
Managing that stress is important not only for your sanity, but also for your heart health. When you become stressed, your body responds by sending a hormonal response, or adrenaline, throughout your body. According to the American Heart Association, that adrenaline causes your heart rate to increase and your blood pressure to rise. When stress continues for an extended period of time, so too do these physical changes. It has yet to be proven that stress directly causes cardiovascular disease, but it may damage the artery walls. And, in addition to affecting heart rate and blood pressure, it may influence behavioral risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity and overeating. So what can you do with all of this stress? Continue in survival mode as you have in the past? Or change the way you manage it? The stressful events will no doubt remain, but the way you respond to them that matters to your body.
Learning the Hard Way “Stress is largely within our control,” says Mellanie True Hills, a heart disease survivor and author of A Woman’s Guide to Saving Her Own Life: The HEART Program for Health and Longevity. “It is the product of a number of factors, such as lack of sleep, improper diet or insufficient exercise, making it difficult for us to deal with the curves that life throws us.
It’s hard to focus when you’re in the midst of it. The best thing you can do in the middle of a stressful event is to stand back and view it objectively, but that’s hard.” Hills should know. Her stressful and fast-paced life almost killed her. As an executive for a high-tech company, she worked around the clock, always attached to work in one form or another. She let exercise and healthy eating habits take a backseat to her busy lifestyle.
One day, she experienced shortness of breath and pain in her left shoulder. She assumed her difficulty breathing stemmed from mold that seemed to permeate the air for the few days prior. But, the shoulder pain concerned her, so she consulted her physician. One doctor visit led to another, and before she knew it, she was in a catheterization lab getting a stent in her artery. Hills had a major coronary artery that was 95 percent blocked. She was a heart attack waiting to happen. Since her stent was at a juncture, it proved a difficult procedure that almost gave her a heart attack on the table.
Although Hills didn’t have the traditional risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history or diabetes), she was overstressed and overweight. And though they weren’t the causes of her heart disease, they were symptoms. “As I probed deeper, I realized that I was so busy with the craziness of my life that I hadn’t taken care of me. I thought I had, but there was so much more I could have done.”
Join the Go Red Movement Hills will share her life lesson about heart health and stress management as the keynote speaker at the second-annual Rochester Go Red For Women Luncheon. The event will take place at the Mayo Civic Center on February 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The American Heart Association successfully launched the event last year in an effort to raise awareness and funds to fight cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of American women. Last year’s Go Red For Women event raised more than $50,000. Organizers are hoping to raise more than $80,000 this year. “Go Red For Women is about loving your heart, taking care of your heart and stress reduction is just the beginning,” says Debbie Eddy, American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women event director. “We have created an event that will allow women to get away for a Saturday to learn how to take care of their hearts.”
The American Heart Association’s nationwide movement celebrates the energy, passion and power we have as women to band together and wipe out cardiovascular disease. Go Red For Women empowers women with knowledge and tools so they can take positive action to reduce their risks of heart disease and stroke and protect their health. Attendees will enjoy free health screenings, health exhibits and seminars including “Re-Fashioning Your Closet Reduce your ’Dress’ Stress,” “How to Communicate with Your Doctor,” and “Healthy Tips for Party Planning.” National sponsor Macy’s will offer free makeovers to Go Red guests; a silent auction and a heart healthy lunch will round out the event. For more information about the Go Red For Women Luncheon, call 507-356-2805. For more information on how to reduce your risks, take the Go Red Heart Check Up at www.goredforwomen.org.
Karen Einisman is the communications director for the American Heart Association Greater Midwest Affiliate.