Is it true that long-term stress can bring about changes in our cardiovascular systems that can increase blood pressure and heart disease risk?

‘Is it true that long-term stress can bring about changes in our cardiovascular systems that can increase blood pressure and heart disease risk?’

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (bhf.org.uk) ‘When you’re stressed, your body releases adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone. This makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise as a way of helping your body cope with the situation. It’s normal for your blood pressure to increase for a short time if you’re feeling stressed, but once the stressful period has passed, it should return to normal.

‘Stress alone (both short- and long-term) won’t cause heart and circulatory diseases, but if you cope with stress by eating junk food, smoking or drinking too much alcohol, your risk increases. This is because these unhealthy habits can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, factors that also increase your risk of heart and circulatory diseases. ‘Finding better ways to cope with stress can help reduce your risk. Not only is exercise good for heart health, it can also release endorphins, which help to alleviate stress. You could also try meditation, mindfulness, yoga or Pilates.’

Is it true that long-term stress can bring about changes in our cardiovascular systems that can increase blood pressure and heart disease risk? Photo Gallery




‘Is there an increased risk of injury when a stressed person exercises?’

Professor Rod Hughes, rheumatologist, Prime Health (prime-health. co.uk) ‘Exercising under stress can lead to a number of problems, including injury from excessive high-intensity exercise and overexercising. Emotional stress can lead to increased or abnormal muscle tension, which may impact your body’s flexibility and agility, making you unable to exercise as efficiently as normal. This, in turn, can set up patterns of soft tissue and joint strain that can lead to injury* . Physical and mental stresses lead the body’s adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, which can inhibit muscle and joint tissue healing after injury. In these situations, muscles can become weakened and more susceptible to further damage.

‘The source of stress can also be mentally distracting. A stressed person may struggle to concentrate on their physical performance or environment, or exercise more aggressively, potentially leading to injuries. When stressed, sleep quality can suffer, causing fatigue which may impact focus, reaction time and decision-making. If someone is stressed and rushes to an exercise session, they may overlook self-care measures which help to protect them from injury. ‘If you’re feeling stressed, consider gentle exercise options to help calm the nervous system rather than agitate it. Start exercise gradually and build it up, giving the body time to adjust, alongside meditation or mindfulness to aid relaxation.’

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