Heart Health in the Fast Lane: Managing Stress with the Help of an Expert


Young runner taking a break with hand on her chest

In today’s non-stop world, managing stress is crucial for keeping healthy, especially when it comes to your heart. Enter Dr. Sunal Makadia, Medical Director of Heart Failure and Director of Sports Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation at LifeBridge Health.


With a nuanced understanding of cardiovascular health, Dr. Makadia is uniquely qualified to explain how stress impacts your heart and what you can do about it. In this blog post, he will guide you through understanding the heart’s response to stress while offering practical strategies to manage tension, monitor heart health and maintain overall wellness.


Physiological Impacts of Stress on the Heart

When we encounter stress, our bodies respond by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This “fight or flight” response temporarily increases our heart rate and blood pressure, redirecting oxygen to essential areas of the body. While this is beneficial in short bursts, chronic stress can lead to a continuous state of heightened cardiac activity that is anything but healthy.  


Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can contribute to inflammation and changes in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Additionally, stress often exacerbates other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The cumulative effect is a significantly elevated risk of developing heart conditions.  


Warning Signs

Recognizing the warning signs of stress-related heart problems is crucial in taking timely preventive measures. Common symptoms can vary but often include:

  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations (the sensation of your heart racing or thumping)
  • Unusual shortness of breath, particularly when not engaged in vigorous activity
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Nausea, particularly in women


Promptly recognizing these symptoms as potentially stress-related allows individuals to seek medical advice and adjust their lifestyle to manage their stress levels and heart health better.


Lifestyle Changes to Mitigate Stress and Improve Heart Health

While individuals who are exposed to high levels of stress long-term are at much higher risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular risk factors, they also tend to have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors. Fortunately, the adverse effects of stress on heart health can be mitigated—and sometimes even reversed—through a variety of lifestyle adjustments:

  • Regular Physical Activity: At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week can help reduce stress levels and improve heart health. Activities like walking, cycling or swimming can be particularly beneficial.
  • Balanced Diet: Consuming a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, mitigating some of the harmful effects of stress on the cardiovascular system.
  • Adequate Sleep: Quality sleep is critical for stress reduction and overall heart health. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to help the body repair itself and regulate stress hormones effectively.  
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as meditation, yoga and deep-breathing exercises can significantly lower stress levels and reduce the strain on the heart.
  • Healthy Coping Mechanisms: When the stress you’re feeling can’t be fully mitigated, it is important to manage it with healthy habits. Rather than turning to alcohol, tobacco or other harmful substances, engage in positive activities! Spending time in nature, pursuing hobbies and socializing can foster resilience and better stress management.  


Action Items

The impact of stress on heart health is significant but not insurmountable. By recognizing the signs of stress and taking proactive steps to manage it, you can protect your heart and enhance your overall well-being.  


If you’re concerned about the impact of stress on your health, consider speaking with a healthcare provider who can offer personalized advice and support. Don’t wait until stress has a visible impact! Act now by scheduling an appointment here