When you or a loved one receives a diagnosis of heart disease, the mind quickly goes to remedies of adding in a walk every day to make sure you get the exercise you need to be fit and altering your diet to eliminate excess saturated fat and incorporate more leafy greens and whole grains. But there may be an important risk factor you haven’t even considered: Stress.
“It’s the modern disease that can result from working in an office where everyone is pressured to deliver” whether a senior or a caregiver, says Paul Adams, Senior Director of Product Management for Philips Lifeline. “Then, in addition to your job, you worry about your family, your college fees, your co-pays. The challenge is to step away from these issues that cause stress and focus on what’s important in life.”
A Litany of Stress-Caused Effects
Stress carries with it its own entourage of ne'er-do-wells. It causes an elevation of cortisol, (the so-called “fight-or-flight” hormone produced in the adrenal glands), which has been found to have a number of adverse effects including lowering our ability to fight disease, and raising our blood pressure, cholesterol, and our risk for heart disease. But the good news is that there are ways we can consciously reduce our cortisol levels, including:
- Regular physical activity: Exercise is great for more than physical well-being. Choose a type of exercise you enjoy — walking, swimming, cycling, or something different — and make it a routine. The exercise will help burn up cortisol and put you in a better frame of mind.
- Tend and befriend: Cortisol has its opposite, and it’s called oxytocin, the hormone produced when mothers bond with their infants and owners’ gaze into the eyes of their beloved pets. So make some time to strengthen those bonds with your family and, yeah, hug your pooch.
- A daily dose of laughter: That old adage that laughter is good medicine holds some truth. Researchers William Fry and Michael Miller embarked on a study to investigate the truth of that maxim and, indeed, found that a good dose of mirth on a regular basis has positive effects on vascular health
- Meditation works: One of the biggest challenges those with heart disease face when in the pressure cooker is to take a few minutes to step away and focus on what is really important to them. Ironically, it is one of the simplest. Mindfulness is as easy as finding 10 minutes to go inward and calm the inner processes. It can be as easy as focusing on your breath. “You don’t need to join a meditation class or sign-up for yoga,” says Adams. “Just focus on what’s important in your life.” To help with that, Adams says, meditation apps can allow you to find a quiet place, plug in your earphones and relax. The Mayo Clinic offers an app for that purpose.
- Soothing the beast: While the final verdict has not get been given, some research suggests that music can impact stress levels. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt to listen to a soothing sonata.
Worrying about falls is another source of stress, both for seniors and their caregivers. But medical alert devices, like those from Philips Lifeline, can provide peace of mind. Seniors and their caregivers know that aid can be accessed at the touch of the Lifeline button – helping to reduce stress and providing a line to help when it may be needed most.