It’s time we all enjoyed a stick of gum to calm down and protect our hearts!
That goes for both men and women, whose behaviors (and underlying hormones) can affect their health in different ways.
A recent study caught my attention because it looked at stress and how the sexes differ in how they handle stress – and what it means for the health of their heart.
Stress is a serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease, whether that stress comes from feeling isolated, worried about the future, or angered by the actions of others. So whatever we can do to relieve our stress is a good thing. Chewing gum, preferably a natural, sugar-free kind, is one easy fix I like to tell my patients!
For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Duke University Medical Center tested 254 men and 56 women who had heart disease that had been stabilized.
All participants were asked to take part in three stressful tasks: A math test, a mirror-tracing test (where the individual traces a pattern by looking at its reflection in the mirror), and recalling an event that made them feel angry. They were then asked to run on a treadmill, an activity that would give researchers an accurate depiction of their heart health.
RELATED READING: You are definitely at risk for heart disease if…
Stress can lead to bigger problems in both men and women
The results showed that men and women had very different responses to stress. Men had heightened heart rate and blood pressure. The women on the other hand, experienced decreased blood flow to the heart and clumping blood cells, an issue that commonly leads to the formation of blood clots.
Results also found that the women had a greater chance of reduced blood flow to the heart caused by artery blockage, a condition referred to as “myocardial ischemia.”
Along with the increased risk for heart problems, the mental effect on the women was also much worse. The women saw an increase in sadness, tension and anxiety. In other words, they were much more likely to take the test material “to heart” than the male participants.
While their stress response is different, the outcome for both sexes is the same: Lack of blood supply and oxygen to the heart muscle which can quickly turn to heart attack.
In light of all this, we do know that prevention is key. The knowledge that men and women respond differently to the same stress stimuli means health care providers can offer more specialized care.
Harvard study backs notion stress is bad for the heart
The Duke University study isn’t the first time that stress and heart health have seen a close connection. Research by the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the European Heart Journal in March, looked at the findings of nine studies spanning a 45-year period. These studies involved thousands of incidents of angina, heart attack, stroke and heart rhythm problems.
The Harvard analysis found within two hours of an angry outburst, a person’s risk of heart attack or acute coronary syndrome was five times higher, and the risk of stroke was four times higher.
Conclusion being that if you don’t have risk factors for heart attack or stroke and stay calm, it’s likely you won’t develop these issues with a single angry outburst. But if you have pre-existing heart issues and do find yourself getting red with rage often, your risk increases substantially. That’s a very sobering thought.
RELATED READING: Why the next few months are critical for your heart
Take steps to relieve stress and cool your head
No matter your gender, it is always good advice to try to keep a cool head and find ways to manage your anger. This research gives new importance to making sure you cope well and defuse your stress, anger and negativity.
The point is, the stress you have been feeling isn’t all in your head. Stress and anger can both impact your health in a very physical way and manifest into much bigger problems. The effect they have on your health is starting to gain recognition.
Now is the time to find ways to manage your stress. It could be something as simple as a quick walk or doing something that makes you laugh, both proven stress-relievers that help to restore your good spirits. Chewing gum, as I mentioned, is a good one, too, with many documented health benefits, including boosting performance and alertness. Earlier this year, Japanese researchers found that chewing gum saw cortisol levels, a measure of stress, fall dramatically within just 10 minutes of chewing.
Another method that has shown real success is something called “concentration meditation” where you picture something calming, like a candle flame or a river. Close your eyes and breathe!
These simple adjustments to your lifestyle could make a huge difference to your health and longevity.
Related Reading: Top 10 natural supplements for heart health