Just relax! Easier said than done, but doctors at Baylor College of Medicine say doing just that could have a positive effect on coronary artery disease and heart health.

“Stress on the body plays a negative role in heart health,” said Dr. Guilherme Silva, assistant professor of medicine- cardiology and director of the Structural Heart Disease Center at Baylor. “While reducing stress alone can’t replace diagnosis, treatment and follow-up appointments with a medical professional, it can help reduce the risk of heart attack.”

Stress and the body

Statistics show that after large, public traumatic events, such as an earthquake or terrorist attack, death rates due to heart attack increase, Silva said. However, he warns that daily stress such as work or family problems can add up to have the same negative effects.

The body is made to have a ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When faced with a stressful situation, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that help the body prepare for the exertion needed to respond to a situation quickly. They affect blood flow and breathing as well as oxygen levels.

“Those responses should be acute, meaning they start and stop quickly. But if your lifestyle is always stressful, the response doesn’t stop,” Silva said. “Adrenaline and cortisol levels remain high and that is when your heart can be affected.”

Reducing stress

In addition to working with your doctor to make sure you are receiving the right treatment and prevention methods, finding ways to reduce your stress is an important step to make, Silva said.

“Reducing stress is not easy, I like to ask my patients to think about what they truly enjoyed doing when they were younger and stress wasn’t an issue. Perhaps there is a place or hobby that they can revisit,” Silva said. “This isn’t a cure-all, it is just a small step to find what works for each person.”

Exercise for your body and soul

Silva also encourages exercise, not only for the physical benefits that will support heart and overall health, but for its destressing effects. He said physical activity increases the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins that trigger a positive feeling, similar to morphine, and helps reduce the perception of pain.

“Reducing the effects of stress help to clear the mind. I like to exercise in the morning when I know I have a stressful day ahead of me,” Silva said. “Improving heart health and controlling stress can be a long road that you have to face one day at a time. It will not happen overnight, but every step you make, even when you fall and get back up, are the right steps to a healthier life and heart.”

For more information on heart health, visit Baylor College of Medicine’s Heart Central.