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How to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

How to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

There’s a reason the song, “Stressed Out,” by Twenty One Pilots struck a chord with listeners last year, topping the charts and getting over 800 million music video views. The chorus is nostalgic: “Wish we could turn back time to the good old days/ when our momma sang us to sleep/ but now we’re stressed out.”

And that stress response can put your heart in jeopardy. One study found that having high levels of stress over an average of 10 years was linked to a 27 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease. It also found that psychological interventions that reduce your stress response are associated with a 27 percent decrease in coronary heart disease. So, how does stress harm the heart and what can you do about it?

It’s all between your ears. The part of your brain that’s responsible for processing emotions is called the amygdala. Research has found your stress response can fire up amygdala activity, which then in turn cranks up your bone-marrow. You end up with overproduction of white blood cells, which then causes arterial inflammation. That’s one way stress can lead to cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

The good news is that understanding this may soon lead to more effective ways to prevent heart disease. In the meantime, we already know a pretty effective way to reduce your stress response, calm your amygdala and spare your heart, not to mention your brain and relationships—mindful meditation.

Medically reviewed in September 2018.

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