When you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, you need to manage a number of new stressors on an ongoing basis. Dealing with more frequent doctor visits, getting used to new medical treatments, and adjusting to lifestyle changes are just some of the factors that may cause you to experience stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to help relieve stress. Many of those steps can help improve your overall health as well, including the health of your heart. Exercise is one of the best strategies for combating stress and managing heart disease.
Physical activity can help lower your overall stress levels and improve your quality of life, both mentally and physically. Exercising regularly can have a positive effect on your mood by relieving the tension, anxiety, anger, and mild depression that often go hand-in-hand with stress. It can improve the quality of your sleep, which can be negatively impacted by stress, depression, and anxiety. It can also help boost your confidence levels.
Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and also improves blood flow. Both of these changes have a direct effect on your brain. Exercise also increases your brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that are responsible for the coveted “runner’s high.” This is the sense of well-being and euphoria that many people experience after exercise.
Physical activity can also help take your mind off your worries. The repetitive motions involved in exercise promote a focus on your body, rather than your mind. By concentrating on the rhythm of your movements, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation while working out. Focusing on a single physical task can produce a sense of energy and optimism. This focus can help provide calmness and clarity.
Some people notice an improvement in their mood immediately after a workout. Those feelings don’t end there, but generally become cumulative over time. Chances are, you will notice increased feelings of well-being as you stay committed to a consistent exercise routine.
In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular exercise also promotes optimum health in other ways. Improvements to your overall health may help indirectly moderate your stress levels. By improving your physical wellness and heart health, you’ll have less to feel stressed about.
Among some of its additional benefits, exercise can help:
- strengthen your muscles and bones
- strengthen your immunity, which can decrease your risk of illness and infection
- lower your blood pressure, sometimes as much as some antihypertensive medications
- boost levels of good cholesterol in your blood
- improve your blood circulation
- improve your ability to control weight
- help you sleep better at night
- boost your energy
- improve your self-image
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. They suggest breaking it down by tackling 30-minute workout sessions at least five days a week. If you’re short on time, and can’t fit in a full 30-minute session, three 10-minute workouts have been shown to work almost as well as 30 minutes at once.
The AHA also encourages you to incorporate at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities into your weekly routine. You should give all your major muscle groups a good workout, including your arms, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen, legs, abdominals and other core muscles.
Be sure to build up your physical activity level gradually if you’re new to an exercise program. For example, your doctor might suggest you start with 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, three days a week, and increase gradually from there.
There are many ways to meet your weekly exercise targets. What type of physical activity should you choose?
You don’t need to be a marathon runner or elite athlete to experience stress relief from exercise. Almost any kind of exercise can be helpful.
For example, consider trying moderate aerobic exercises such as:
- brisk walking or jogging
- swimming or doing water aerobics
- playing tennis or racquetball
When it comes to muscle-strengthening exercises, consider trying weight lifting or activities with resistance bands.
Even something as simple as gardening or choosing to take the stairs rather than the elevator can give you an emotional lift.
Any type of exercise can increase your fitness and decrease your stress. However, it’s important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread. If you don’t like the water, don’t choose swimming as your activity. If the thought of running makes you anxious, training for a 5K race won’t help relieve your stress. Try a variety of activities until you find some you enjoy. When you’re having fun, you’ll be more likely to stick with your workout routine.
Working out with someone else can also add to the stress-busting benefits of workout. Sharing it with family members of friends can make exercise feel more like fun and less like work.
If you’re out of shape or new to exercising, ask your doctor for guidance on what forms of exercise are right for you. They can help you develop a safe and effective workout routine while taking your specific condition and fitness level into account. Discuss appropriate intensity levels with your doctor.
You can enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of exercise even if you’re out of shape or not athletic. Regular exercise can help you feel less stressed, anxious, and depressed, and more relaxed, optimistic, and happy. It can also improve your overall health, including the health of your heart.