Don’t Let These Five Factors Undermine Your Health
BY JEANNE STOUGH, MS, EP
Cardiac Rehabilitation at Aspen Valley Hospital
When it comes to cardiovascular health, we hear a lot about diet and exercise. While they are certainly important, there are some lesser known factors that can significantly influence the heart.
Sleep isn’t just for the weary—it’s for the heart, too! Adequate, quality sleep is vital for a healthy heart. During deep sleep, the body repairs and regenerates, including the heart and blood vessels. Aim for 7-9 hours of shuteye each night.
It’s okay to raise a glass … but moderation is key. Excessive alcohol can lead to a host of heart problems. So, it’s best to savor in sensible quantities to keep your ticker in top shape. Our medical experts recommend no more than one drink for women and no more than two drinks for men each day.
As previously mentioned, exercise is a fundamental pillar of heart health, but there’s a tipping point. Overtraining can strain your heart and lead to injuries. Give your heart some love by incorporating rest days into your routine. It’s during these periods that your heart adapts and grows stronger.
At higher elevations, like in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, there’s less oxygen in the air. This can make your heart have to work harder to keep blood pumping. When exercising outdoors, it’s crucial to stay well-hydrated to combat the drier air. And don’t overexert yourself.
When stress becomes chronic, it can have harmful effects on the heart. The body’s response to anxiety can lead to increased blood pressure, heightened heart rate and artery inflammation. Over time, this can contribute to the development of heart disease. Consider finding ways to seriously relax. Even mindful breathing throughout the day can help decrease stress and anxiety.
By keeping these factors in mind, and living a healthy lifestyle, you can help your heart beat strong for years to come.
Quiz: Is Anxiety Stressing Out Your Heart?
Answer the following questions to assess your stress levels and their potential impact on your heart health.
1. How often do you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with everyday challenges?
A) Rarely or never
D) Almost constantly
2. How often do you experience physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, muscle tension or digestive issues?
3. Do you find it challenging to relax or “turn off” your mind, even when you have time to rest?
4. Have you noticed any changes in your sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up feeling refreshed?
A) No, my sleep is generally good
B) Occasionally, but it’s not a major issue
C) Yes, it’s a consistent problem
D) My sleep is severely affected by stress
5. How often do you engage in stress-coping behaviors like overeating, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or neglecting physical activity?
Add up the points for each of your answers:
A = 0 points
B = 1 point
C = 2 points
D = 3 points
INTERPRETING YOUR SCORE
0-4 points: Your stress level appears to be relatively low, but it’s important to continue practicing stress management techniques and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.
5-8 points: You may be experiencing moderate levels of stress that could be affecting your heart health. Consider implementing additional stress-reducing strategies into your routine, such as meditation and exercise.
9-12 points: Your stress levels are elevated and could have a significant impact on your heart health. This may be a good time to make an appointment with your physician to help you manage your stress effectively.
This article originally appeared in the Winter/Spring 2023-2024 Healthy Journey Magazine.
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