Destress to Help Your Heart

With the economy in shambles, the environment on the verge, and a collective lifestyle whose pace seems to get faster by the minute, it's hard for even the most Zen among us to feel stress-free nowadays. And all this stress can have an adverse effect on the cardiovascular system.

A Greek study published in the May issue of Psychosomatic Medicine found that mental stress increased arterial stiffness while laughter had a similar-size yet opposite result. In fact, a report presented at the 122nd Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society this past April revealed that laughter reduces stress and inflammation while increasing the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or good cholesterol, in the blood. So how else can you counteract the ravages of everyday stressors on your heart and blood vessels? The following three activities have a history of effectiveness:

 Yoga: The popular ancient Hindu practice, which about 15 million Americans include in their fitness routines, not only promotes general fitness and a mind-body connection but heart health as well. According to a report presented to the 22nd annual meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians in August 2007, among the all the mind-body practices yoga showed the greatest efficacy at reducing high blood pressure, lowering systolic pressure by 19 points and diastolic pressure by 13 points.

Transcendental Meditation: Engaging in this mental exercise, made popular in the late 1960s by celebrities such as the Beatles and Mia Farrow, brings more than inner peace, it can put a stop to hypertension and metabolic syndrome, which has been linked to heart disease. A study published in the June 2006 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that test subjects who practiced Transcendental Meditation achieved significantly decreased blood pressure as well as increased insulin resistance.

Music: It soothes the savage beast-and the frazzled heart disease patient. A review of data from 23 studies published in April revealed that people suffering from coronary heart disease were able to lower their heart rate and blood pressure by listening to music. Another study released in 2005 concluded that musicians reap the most benefits from listening to music because they are trained to synchronize their breathing in time with the music. Indian classical music, or ragas, produced the greatest drops in heart rate.

Charalambos Vlachopoulos, MD, Divergent Effects of Laughter and Mental Stress on Arterial Stiffness and Central Hemodynamics, Psychosomatic Medicine 71:446-453 (2009);

American Physiological Society (2009, April 17). Laughter Remains Good Medicine. ScienceDaily.

Ather Ali, ND, MPH and David L. Katz, MD, MPH, 22nd annual meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, "Mind-Body Practices for Hypertension: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis," Palm Springs Convention Center, Palm Springs, CA, August 22-25, 2007;

Maura Paul-Labrador, Effects of a Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation on Components of the Metabolic Syndrome in Subjects With Coronary Heart Disease, Arch Intern Med, Jun 2006; 166: 1218 - 1224;

Bradt J, Dileo C. Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2009, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD006577 DOI: 0.1002/14651858.CD006577.pub2; http://www.sciencedaily

Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non-musicians: the importance of silence Online First DOI: 10.1136/heart.2005.064600, BMJ Specialty Journals (2005, October 5);