Quitting Smoking

By itself, cigarette smoking increases the risk of heart disease. When it acts with other factors, it greatly increases your risk. The good news: if you quit smoking now, you’ll see immediate and significant health benefits even if you’ve smoked for many years.

These include a reduction in your risk of heart attack. Ten years after quitting, your risk of death from heart disease is almost the same as if you had never smoked. If you smoke, talk to your healthcare providers. They can help you plan a way to quit smoking, and can suggest programs and methods to help you cope with the stress of quitting. They may also advise medications to help reduce your craving for cigarettes and ease your withdrawal symptoms.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

When you’re overweight, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to the excess fat you carry. So even if you’re just a few pounds overweight, you need to lose the excess weight to help your heart.

Losing excess weight can have an immediate and significant impact on your health and quality of life. Here’s what losing weight can do for your heart:

  • Ease your heart’s workload
  • Help reduce other cardiac risk factors, such as high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Make it easier for you to be physically active

When you lose weight, you also reduce risks for other ailments. You’ll probably feel better. People who’ve succeeded at weight loss say they have more energy and a better outlook.

Managing Stress

Some research suggests that heart disease is affected by a variety of environmental, psychological, and social factors. These include stress caused by job strain, social isolation, certain personality traits, and other factors.

Stress is your physical and emotional response (often called the “fight or flight” response) to anything you perceive as overwhelming. Stress isn’t harmful in itself. It’s a natural part of life, and sometimes - as with the excitement that comes with a surprise birthday party or from watching a good TV thriller - it’s even enjoyable. Stress only becomes negative when you can’t adequately manage the bodily processes that come with it.

Too much stress can take a toll on your health and your life. It can cause anxiety, fear, anger, distraction, and depression. It can contribute to relationship difficulties and decrease your quality of life. It can also slow or limit your recovery from heart surgery or heart attack.

Stress doesn’t just affect you mentally. It can also cause actual physical symptoms that can be harmful to your heart over time. These include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Shallow and rapid breathing
  • Increased adrenaline
  • Elevated blood cholesterol and blood sugar

These physical reactions to the “flight-or-fight” response may cause other problems:

  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Lack of oxygen to the heart muscle
  • Formation of blood clots
  • Heart arrhythmias

People who react to stress with anger or hostility may be especially at risk for the negative effects of stress on the heart. Stress experienced as depression also seems to be a strong predictor of heart problems.

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