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10 Ways to Protect Your Heart From the Tolls of Recession

Healthy Diet, Exercise, Relaxing Techniques Can Go a Long Way in Reducing Ill Effects of Economy-Related Stress
By Virginia Anderson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The wild stock market ride, rising foreclosure rates, and increasing layoffs may give you a queasy feeling in your stomach, but it’s your heart that is really at increased risk during a recession, cardiologists say.

Because of the stress that often comes with a recession, it’s important to take extra care of your heart’s health.

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“Stress, anxiety, and depression all affect heart health,” says Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, section head of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. One major effect is accelerated atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate are also side effects of stress.

Although a recession does not kill tens of thousands of people in a single catastrophic event, it harms health in the long run. The consequences of dealing with financial uncertainties can be devastating, experts say.

So what can you do to protect your health during the recession? Plenty. And you can do it with just a little extra effort -- and very little money.

1. Look the other way

Limit your exposure to the bad news as much as possible. There’s no benefit, experts say, to monitoring your 401(k) gains or losses on a daily basis. Ditto for your other investments. Listening to each new bit of news of how alleged scammers like Bernie Madoff made off with investors’ money only stresses us more.

We may not think of chemicals when it comes to matters of the heart, but much of the way the heart responds to stress comes down to body chemistry, explains Cam Patterson, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill. And several different chemical molecules can harm us as a result of stress.

Our bodies react to stress by producing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Especially for those already at risk for heart disease, the results of an outpouring of stress hormones can be deadly -- or at least risky. They can build up over time, with effects that lead to damage of arterial walls and weakening plaque that may already be in a vessel.

“They make the plaques more likely to explode,” Patterson says.

2. Get moving

We know you’ve heard that exercise is important, but during a recession, your health may depend on it. This is particularly true if you’ve been laid off, doctors say. The tendency may be to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed -- or sit in front of the TV. Don’t. Get your day started with a brisk walk, says Winston Gandy, MD, co-director of cardiac ultrasound at Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta.

Hazen recommends, “Do jumping jacks, take a milk crate and turn it upside down and step on it -- do something."

Repeated studies have shown the benefits of exercise to heart health, with as much as a 15% decrease in mortality rates with relatively minor changes in one’s exercise routine.

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