Stress Management Offers Best Protection Against Heart Disease

Like a lightning bolt from the sky, heart attacks strike suddenly and unexpectedly. However, what seems like a sudden traumatic incident, has been decades in the making. Cardiovascular disease is a long-term process, which starts as early as in your twenties and thirties, and the earlier you can take steps to prevent heart disease, the better. Taking drugs to lower high blood pressure or high cholesterol isn’t enough—you need to do it naturally, by starting at the root. It is well known that stress managment is one of the best ways to lower blood pressure naturally and prevent heart disease. Studies have shown that effective stress management, including stress managment involving yoga therapy and meditation, can even reverse atherosclerosis, and reduce the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels.

Stress has reached epidemic proportions in our fast-paced society, and it has a tremendously negative impact on your health. Heart disease is the number one stress-related disorder in our society; more people die of cardiovascular disease, including complications of high blood pressure than any other stress-related illness.

Stress affects you continuously, even when you are not aware that you are out of your comfort range and have exceeded your capacity. When overwhelmed, your physiology produces an excess of stress hormones. These biochemical changes interfere with metabolic pathways and cause imbalances in your mind and body. Repeated episodes of acute psychological stress, or chronic psychological stress, may induce a chronic inflammatory process. Inflammation triggers atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure.

About 40% of people with atherosclerosis exhibit none of the traditional risk factors for the condition, and it is estimated that stress-related inflammation is the main trigger of the plaque build-up in these cases. Stress causes the release of numerous stress hormones, such as catecholamines, corticosteroids, glucagon, growth hormone, and renin, and elevated levels of homocysteine. This induces a heightened state of cardiovascular activity, putting tremendous stress on the vascular system. Prolonged stress will injure the endothelium, the thin layer of cells that line the interior of blood vessels. Once the endothelium is injured, the process of atherosclerosis begins to take place, as the body lays down a waxy plaque on the interior surfaces of the blood vessels to reinforce the injured surface. While this kind of a patch-up is a good short-term solution to repair the injured tissue, it proves harmful if it happens repeatedly. Excessive build-up of plaque narrows the diameter of blood vessels, creating more pressure on the walls of the blood vessels, resulting in more build-up of plaque—and so on. Atherosclerosis is really an endothelial dysfunction—the cells in the inner lining of the artery are no longer functioning properly.

In short, stress undermines the health of the entire cardiovascular system, and high blood pressure is just one symptom of this. When efficient functioning is reduced, your physiology makes mistakes, with results that can lead to premature aging and disease, such as cardiovascular problems, anxiety, fatigue, anger, relationship problems, insomnia and more.

Yoga offers effective therapy for stress, because it activates the rest and relaxation response, associated with the parasympathetic nervous system. Just as important as what happens on the mat during your yoga practice for stress, however, is Yoga Off the Mat—the long-term changes yoga often fosters in mind and body. For more information on this, see the article below.

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