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This Lifestyle Habit Increases Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, New Study Says

It can make you 22% more likely to develop heart issues, researchers found.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

If the human body is akin to a finely tuned sports car, the heart is undoubtedly the engine. The human heart, a four-chambered muscular organ roughly the size of a clenched fist, pumps vital blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your entire body. Suffice to say, taking care of your heart is a good idea.

You probably already knew that, though, as it's fairly common knowledge that cardiovascular disease is considered the number one cause of death on a global scale. For example, in 2019 nearly 18 million people passed away due to a cardiovascular disease or event, with heart attacks and strokes accounting for an astounding 85% of that statistic.

When it comes to protecting your heart, clean eating and plenty of exercise is a great starting point. This study published in the European Heart Journal reports a regular regimen of cardio exercise can cut the risk of heart attack in half – even among adults showing no outward signs of heart disease. Similarly, another study published in Circulation concludes even just a little extra belly fat is associated with an increased risk of heart problems.

You may be wondering what else you can do, besides the basics like exercise and dieting, to better protect your heart and cardiovascular system. On that note, extensive new research published in JAMA Network Open is offering up some heart health advice that everyone should know. Keep reading to learn more, and next, don't miss This Is America's Most Relaxed City, New Data Says.

1

Stress management is essential

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This was a massive study, tracking over 110,000 people for about a decade. All in all, the data tells a compelling story: The more stressed you are on a day-to-day basis, the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Adults who reported dealing with high levels of stress regularly were found to be 22% more likely to develop a form of cardiovascular disease, 24% more at risk of a heart attack, and a full 30% more likely to suffer a stroke.

Life is inherently stressful. While avoiding stress entirely is a fool's errand, this work should motivate all of us to prioritize stress management. It may not be easy, and will likely require a period of trial and error, but find a way to de-stress that works for you. It will be just as advantageous for your heart as a nice long jog or ordering a salad in lieu of a cheeseburger.

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2

The research

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In all, 118,706 adults living in 21 different countries were analyzed for this work. Both men and women were included, with the median age at the start of the study being 50 years old. Some were as young as 35 while others were as old as 70. Tracking ceased in March 2021, with the median tracking period being about a decade.

So, around 10 years ago, each participant answered a series of questions on their perceived stress over the prior year. For the purposes of the research "stress" was defined as feeling anxious, uneasy, or irritable in response to various life factors both at home and on the job. Financial issues, unemployment, and divorce are just a few of the topics subjects were asked about. Each person rated their overall stress on a scale of one (no stress) to three (severe stress).

Among the entire participant pool, 7.3% were classified as being under severe stress. Meanwhile, 18.4% reported moderate stress, 29.4% were low stress, and 44% were found to have no stress. For what it's worth, many participants deemed to be under severe stress tended to be younger, live in a high-income country, and exhibited additional risk factors such as a smoking habit or obesity.

Over the course of the decade-long tracking period, a total of 5,934 cardiovascular events were recorded among participants. Such instances included myocardial infarction, stroke, or heart failure.

Related: 4 Exercise Tricks to Fight Aging, Science Says

3

A different perspective

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While this certainly isn't the first piece of research to analyze stress and heart health, this study set itself apart from the pack by measuring stress levels among subjects before any heart issues occurred. Prior relevant research had collected stress-related data after the cardiovascular events had already passed, potentially influencing the findings.

In summation, study authors believe that stress management is an integral aspect of preventing heart disease and promoting stronger overall cardiovascular health.

"It's not known exactly what causes the elevated risk of cardiovascular disease among the severely stressed people. But many different processes in the body, such as atherosclerosis and blood clotting, may be affected by stress," says study leader Annika Rosengren, Professor of Medicine at the Institute of Medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg. "If we want to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease globally, we need to consider stress as another modifiable risk factor."

Related: Eating Habits to Avoid If You Don't Want Heart Disease

4

A few suggestions

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Looking for a new way to unwind and destress? Consider adding a furry friend to your life. This study concludes just 10 minutes spent petting a dog or cat can lower physiological stress levels.

If a new pet isn't for you, this research tells us that a 10-minute massage can work wonders in terms of stress relief.

Alternatively, buy a new plant for your workspace. This study finds simply having a plant on your desk helps reduce daily stress levels.

For more, check out The #1 Best Exercise for Fighting Stress, New Study Says.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more
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