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Modern Life Takes a Toll on Our Hearts

An expert describes antidotes to the heart-damaging lifestyle of today's stress-filled world.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

We all know that eating loads of saturated fat and leading a sedentary lifestyle can be damaging to our hearts, but today's supercharged lifestyle replete with BlackBerries, cell phones, sky-high mortgage payments, and seven-day work weeks can also wreak havoc on our hearts.

WebMD spoke with Mimi Guarneri, MD, the founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, Calif., and the author of The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing, to find out how modern life affects our heart health and what we can do about it before it's too late.

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Here's what we found out:

What aspects of modern life are bad for our hearts?

Everything. The new definition of normal is going to work every day in a car that is not paid for so you can pay for the house that you never get to use because you are always at work. We are stressed out to say the least. Not to be doom and gloom, but this so-called modern life is not conducive to health. Today, people are so focused on mergers and acquisitions and the accumulation of things that the question becomes when is enough, enough. Sometimes our body has to put the brakes on for us with a big heart attack.

How is having a BlackBerry bad for the heart?

Today there is constant bombardment with emails, faxes, and BlackBerries.  It's nonstop. We are forced to make split-second decisions because we don't have time to think. It's extremely stressful and as a result, we are flooded with stress hormones. The release of stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol can increase the risk of having a heart attack.

That's scary. What can we do to prevent this from happening?

Start by thinking about the heart physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Physical care involves choosing the right foods and exercising. That's the easy part. The emotional aspect involves asking yourself if you are stressed, depressed, anxious, or angry. And the deeper, spiritual issue is asking yourself 'who am I [and] what is my purpose?'

If eating right and exercising is the easy part, why don't people do it?

People know how to eat and they know they need to exercise, but they are making poor choices mostly driven by stress and depression. They think: 'I am depressed, so why exercise?' Or: 'I am stressed, so I will have four martinis.'

Do cholesterol and blood pressure still count?

Yes, but it's not just enough to know your total cholesterol numbers. We want to know much more advanced things, such as what kind of good or bad cholesterol and whether or not certain inflammatory blood markers are elevated. We also want to know if this person is stressed, angry, or depressed and how they are living their life.

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