Wellness Wednesdays: How stress affects your heart

It's well known that consuming sugary and fatty foods and living a sedentary lifestyle can negatively affect your heart health. But what isn't so publicly discussed is how heart health is impacted by stress. 

"The symptoms of stress and anxiety are often felt right [in the heart]," explains Dr. Karen Latimer to AOL Lifestyle. That feeling of pressure and anxiety hasn't changed since our ancestors were often tossed into "fight or flight" situations. For example, our brains have a hard time distinguishing a predator from an angry boss. 

"It all feels like a potentially fatal threat," she explains Latimer. "That amped up response, while great in a life-or-death situation, overtime is cumulatively dangerous to our heart health. Many of us are living in a constant state of stress and therefore are in a constant state of this heightened response." 

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How to stick to a heart-healthy diet
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How to stick to a heart-healthy diet

1. Addition and substitution (not deprivation)

"Yes, you should avoid foods high in unhealthy fats and sugar," says Latimer. "But instead of focusing on what you can't have, focus on what you can enjoy. 

2. Increase fiber in your diet without supplements

Fruits, vegetables and beans are packed with fiber with whole grains: Steel cut oats and berries for breakfast, brown rice, beans and vegetables for lunch and dinner.

3. Try this perfect heart healthy lunch

A salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, salmon and a little olive oil. Kale and spinach are also high in vitamin K and will help boost your heart health. Tomatoes are a fantastic source of antioxidants, while salmon is packed with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Toss in avocado (for blood pressure and fiber) for a filling and healthy meal. 

Olive oil is a good fat and has been shown to reduce cholesterol 

4. Nuts make the perfect snack 

Snack on walnuts, almonds and peanuts which are filled with omega-3s, fibers and vitamin E to lower cholesterol and decrease risk for clots. 

5. Keep fruits and veggies on-hand for easy access

A full fridge can reduce your cravings and mindless eating. A cup of anti-inflammatory green tea once a day can also do wonders. 

6. Moderate intake of red wine

Some studies prove red wine, dark chocolate and coffee have been linked to better heart health. Cheers! 

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But what does this look like?

We feel anxious with danger. Our body sends a signal to our adrenal glands to release stress hormones, first adrenaline then cortisol. Consequently, our heart rate increases, as does blood pressure. Breathing becomes more rapid, muscles tense and eyes dilate. If the threat goes away, all of these symptoms are calmed by the parasympathetic nervous system.

However, what if the threat persists? "Many of us have a chronic level of unhealthy stress, keeping our body in high alert," Latimer continued. That continued level of stress takes a toll on the body, including on the digestive and the immune system.

See more of stress' impact on the heart in the video above. 

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17 least stressful cities in the world
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17 least stressful cities in the world

#17: Auckland, New Zealand

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#16: Oslo, Norway

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#15: Dresden, Germany

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#14: Nice, France

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#13: Wellington, New Zealand

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#12: Seattle, Washington, USA

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#11: Zurich, Switzerland

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#10: Graz, Austria

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#9: Hamburg, Germany

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#8: Sydney, Australia

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#7: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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#6: Bordeaux, France

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#5: Munich, Germany

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#4: Bern, Switzerland

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#3: Hannover, Germany

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#2: Luxembourg, Luxembourg

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#1: Stuttgart, Germany

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