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.
The unexpected death of NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert in June shocked many Americans, who suddenly saw themselves at risk for heart trouble. Heart-healthy diets gained traction in 2008, along with tips for recognizing symptoms of heart disease.
Those topics are among the most viewed heart-related stories on WebMD for 2008.
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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
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.