How do you rate your stress level? Your answer to that question may tell you something about your risk of coronary heart disease. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Centers analyzed six studies involving data on almost 120,000 participants to find out how perceived stress ranks as a predictor of heart disease. Depending on the participants’ answers to questions about how stressed they feel and how often they feel stress, the researchers assigned each one a score. The individuals' medical histories were then followed for an average of 14 years. Research showed that the participants who ranked their stress as “high” were at 27 percent increased risk of being diagnosed or hospitalized with heart disease, or had died as a result of heart disease. The researchers found that high stress was about equivalent in added risk to a 50 mg/dL increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, an increase in blood pressure of 2.7/1.4 mmHg or smoking five more cigarettes per day. Their advice? Anything you can do to reduce stress can help improve your future heart health. The study was published in the American Journal of Cardiology, December 15, 2012.
My take? We know that stress increases the risk of heart disease. The findings of this study are interesting because they compare the risks of stress to better known and easily quantifiable risk factors such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure and smoking. If you want to decrease the impact of stress in your life, be sure to get regular exercise and sufficient sleep. Incorporate meditation and some form of relaxation technique into your daily routine. Simple breathing exercises can be especially effective and require no special equipment, so you can use them whenever you feel anxious or upset.