Published on February 25, 2022

mature woman jogging

The Link Between Stress and Heart Disease in Women

Women’s hearts are special, and that’s no exception when it comes to heart disease.

“About 90% of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease,” says Daisy F. Lazarous, MD, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Program with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group. “There are some risk factors that play a larger role in women than in men, including mental stress and depression.”

Life can be stressful. Whether it’s juggling work responsibilities, being a caretaker or navigating political issues - it can get overwhelming. Finding healthy ways to manage these stressors can positively affect your mental and heart health.

Prioritize Time for Yourself

Often, women are so busy taking care of those around them, they forget to make themselves a priority. Taking a self-care day is necessary for good health and makes a big difference in mood, confidence and stress levels. It’s a bonus if you can incorporate heart-healthy activities into your self-care day, such as:

Go for a brisk walk. The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week.

Take a healthy cooking class. Cooking requires focus and can not only be a good way to disconnect, but you can learn to cook a delicious, heart-healthy meal.

Schedule time to see friends or family. Studies have shown that isolation can lead to unhealthy behaviors that can increase the risk of heart disease. Find time to connect with people that make you feel happy and relaxed.

Treat yourself to a massage. Soft, gentle massages can help improve circulation, relieve pain and reduce anxiety.

Manage Stress in Healthy Ways

When you are feeling stressed, how do you deal with it? While everyone reacts differently, some people may turn to poor health behaviors such as smoking, drinking excess alcohol or overeating. In addition to stress or anxiety, these behaviors can also increase your risk for heart disease. To help you manage your stress, try one of these ideas.

Breathing exercises. Taking a moment to take a deep breath and clear your mind can help lower your heart rate.

Listen to your favorite playlist. Music has been shown to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Focus on letting go. It’s easy to worry about things out of your control but try to focus on things within your power.

Take a break. Intentionally set aside time for a break when you’re feeling overwhelmed. A simple five-minute stretch or one-minute mindfulness break can help.

Be Your Best Health Advocate

According to Dr. Lazarous, women experience different heart disease symptoms than men and are more likely to be misdiagnosed when it comes to heart attacks. “While chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom for both men and women, women can have unusual symptoms.”

Talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms such as extreme fatigue, heartburn, nausea, or pain in the back, neck or jaw. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease. Because of this, you should know your health status, including your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, A1C and BMI numbers. If you have questions or concerns, make sure you write them down before visiting with your doctor.

“The good news is, it’s never too late. You can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke at any age by making simple lifestyle modifications and finding what works best for you and your heart,” says Dr. Lazarous.

Learn more about your risk for heart disease by taking Adventist HealthCare’s free online heart risk assessment at AdventistHealthCare.com/LYH. Don’t forget to share and discuss your results with your doctor!

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