Taking care of mental health is good for your heart, new research finds


Special to the Recorder

While diet and exercise are well-known ways to improve your health, new medical research is shedding light on the importance of mental wellness on your heart. More evidence is mounting that depression, stress and anxiety can be as damaging to your circulatory system as major risk factors like high cholesterol and obesity.

Link between mental health and heart disease

Two recently published studies have found a strong connection between mental health and heart disease. One study from the journal “Atherosclerosis” found that dying from cardiovascular disease was as strongly associated with depression as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Depression and stress accounted for about 15 percent of cardiovascular deaths in the study. Even after adjusting for other risk factors like smoking, researchers found a link between depression and heart disease.

The second study from “The Lancet” found that increased activity in the amygdala – a region of the brain involved with stress – is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Patients with higher amygdala activity were more likely to develop heart disease and at a younger age. Stress increased the overall inflammation in their bodies and arteries – which may be one reason why stress and heart disease are related.

Stress management tools for your heart health

The good news is that you can take steps to reduce your stress that will improve both your mental and physical wellbeing. The first step when dealing with stress, anxiety or depression is to understand why you’re experiencing it. Whether it’s work stress, family issues, or anxiety over a chronic health condition, understanding the problem will give you the best pathway to treatment. If you suffer from clinical depression, it is important to consult with a doctor about seeking counseling services or medical treatment.

It’s also a good idea to engage in stress-reducing activities every day. Some of the best practices for managing stress are deep breathing exercises, restorative yoga and meditation with guided imagery. Even a stress-reducing hobby like gardening, reading a book or listening to music can make a big difference. Thirty minutes to an hour of stress management each day can have significant positive impacts on your heart health.

Another important step is choosing heart-healthy habits. Since physical and mental health are so closely linked, making positive physical changes can have the power to improve your overall mental health as well. Living a heart-healthy lifestyle entails committing to regular exercise and a balanced diet. Adults should aim to exercise for 30 minutes at least five days per week, as well as focus on a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in salt and processed sugars. Making lifestyle changes can add extra stressors, however, so it may be best to take these changes in small increments.

Diet and exercise will always be keys to good health and a long lifespan – but with more research confirming the link between mental and heart health, it is essential to consider our psychological wellbeing and reactions to stressful circumstances as key determinants of our cardiovascular health.

Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating atrial fibrillation, visit AfibJax.com.