DALLAS, May 5, 2023 — Anxiety, stress and depression can have a negative impact on your physical health and may even increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, according to research reported in the 2021 scientific statement, Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection, from the American Heart Association, the world’s leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all. These findings identified the strong interconnection between the mind, heart and body.
“Research has clearly demonstrated that negative psychological factors, personality traits and mental health disorders can negatively impact cardiovascular health. The body’s biological reaction to stress, anxiety and other types of poor mental health can manifest physically through an irregular heart rate or rhythm, increased blood pressure and inflammation throughout the body,” said the American Heart Association 2022-23 volunteer president Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, who has studied the impact of stress on cardiovascular health throughout her research career. “Negative psychological health is also associated with health behaviors that are linked to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, such as smoking, lower levels of physical activity, unhealthy diet, being overweight and not taking medications as prescribed. This all takes a real toll on the body’s cardiovascular system.”
Studies have found that some people, including people of color, may face a greater risk of poor health outcomes due to chronic stress, depression and anxiety linked to psychosocial stressors, particularly those related to social and economic inequality, discrimination, systemic racism and other societal factors. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that U.S. adults who reported feeling highly discriminated against at work had an increased risk of developing high blood pressure than those who reported low discrimination at work.
Albert said identifying and addressing negative psychological feelings is important for everyone. Practicing mindfulness-based interventions such as meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy can help decrease anxiety, perceived stress and depression and have a positive impact on cardiovascular disease and risk. Positive psychological health is also associated with beneficial health behaviors such as smoking cessation, increased physical activity, heart-healthy eating, increased medication adherence and regular check-ups and health screenings. People with better mental health tend to have positive social relationships, support and connections, which can facilitate healthier adaptation to life’s challenges.
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices,” said Albert who is the Walter A Haas-Lucie Stern Endowed Chair and professor of medicine, director of the CeNter for the StUdy of AdveRsiTy and CardiovascUlaR DiseasE (NURTURE Center) and associate dean of admissions at the University of California, San Francisco. “Practicing mindfulness in all forms allows one to be more aware of and to have more control over one’s emotional responses to the experiences of daily life.”
A study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 found that adults with elevated blood pressure who participated in a mindfulness behavior program for eight weeks had significantly lower blood pressure levels and greatly reduced sedentary time, when evaluated at six months follow up. Research from China published in the Association’s Stroke journal found that three months of practicing a modified form of Tai Chi, stroke survivors had improved hand and arm function, sitting balance, mental health and quality of life, compared to stroke survivors who participated in a standard stroke rehabilitation exercise program.
Here are a few tips Albert recommends to improve your mind-heart-body connection:
- Practice meditation regularly. While there are many types of meditation, even something as simple as communing with nature, or sitting quietly and focusing on your breath can have a positive impact.
- Get plenty of good, restful sleep. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep for good health, yet 1 in 3 people don’t get enough. Set a regular bedtime and wakeup routine and turn off or dim electronic screens as bedtime approaches.
- Make connections and stay in touch: Reach out and connect regularly with family and friends, or engage in activities to meet new people. Research shows that social isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.
- Practice mindful movement: There are many types of Yoga and Tai Chi that can help ease your soul and your muscles. These mindful practices can be gentle and may be done by just about anyone, anywhere, with no special equipment needed.
- Spend time with your furry BFF: Companion animals are beloved members of the family and research shows pets may help reduce physiological reactions to stress as well as support improved physical activity.
- Work it out with a workout: Regular physical activity — a recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a mix of both weekly — can relieve tension, anxiety and depression and give you an immediate exercise “high.”
“Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease. It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life,” Albert said. “When we strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health, we are promoting an overall positive and healthy state of being.”
Learn more about the importance of heart health at heart.org.
- Multimedia, including an audio news release, is available on right column of release link https://newsroom.heart.org/news/mental-wellness-is-important-for-a-healthy-heart-and-brain?preview=9c66b32c3079acfaa5a4e6a5f595d92e
- Spanish news release
- AHA health information: Mental Health and Wellbeing
- AHA health information: Fight Stress with Healthy Habits Infographic
- AHA news release: Mental health is important to overall health, and heart disease prevention and treatment
- AHA news release: Awardees named for $15 million project to study the CVD health impacts of chronic stress
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