stress and cholesterolAre stress and cholesterol related? The answer according to recent research is yes!

Increased levels of stress in your daily life can raise your cholesterol level, but before we jump to conclusions, let’s consider that this really means.

Cholesterol and The Stress Connection

Most people would assume that stress increases cholesterol levels and that causes heart disease. Well…it’s not that simple. Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, although it is found “at the scene of the crime,” so to speak.

Your body has many mechanisms of self protection and this is but another one of them. Stress causes many changes in the body as it tried to protect itself from perceived dangers. This triggers “stress hormones” such as cortisol and adrenaline. These are what drive up cholesterol.

However it’s not the elevated cholesterol that’s the real problem, it what drives the increase in cholesterol, and that’s inflammation. Cholesterol is in some ways a “protective” substance in your body, and it can be raised by your body in response to stress, as part of this “protective” mechanism.

What DOES cause heart disease is inflammation, and stress does indeed drive up inflammation in a big way. There is a small town in Pennsylvania called Roseto, which was the subject of a study into the lifestyle of the people there and their surprisingly low rates of heart disease.

The heart disease rate in Roseto was VERY low, much lower than the US in general, even though many of the people there did the wrong things in terms of health habits. Many of them smoked, they ate fried foods, and the men did dangerous exhausting physical labor, in slate mines.

What could explain this? The answer is a lack of stress! Roseto was a small tight knit community. People were very engaged and involved in all aspects of community life. Often extended families of several generations lived in the same house.

Older people were respected and honored members of the community. The townspeople were surrounded by family, friends, and institutions like church and various social clubs and organizations they were members of.

Crime was pretty much non-existent, and people had strong shared values that they lived by. The support of family, friends, social institutions, and religion all helped keep these people free of the emotional stress that can be brought on by loneliness and isolation.

What the researchers found was that the lack of social connections was a better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol level, diet, or exercise! Surprised? Don’t be. Let’s face it…human beings are social creatures. We are designed to need each other to survive both physically and emotionally.

The most long lived cultures in the world all share this trait, that is strong family ties and community bonds that provide emotional support and allow them to deal with the challenges of life without being overly stressed.

Ways To Lower Your Stress Levels

Social Connections:

There are a number of things you can do to lower stress and protect yourself against heart disease. The above mentioned emotional connections with family and community are probably THE most important factor, because if you don’t have this, then everything else you do is far less effective.

So you should strive to remain connected with family, and friends through the normal social connections like your church, civic organizations, activities you enjoy, ect.

You will not only protect your health, but enjoy your life a lot more in the process.

Here are some other things you can do to help prevent and alleviate stress in your life:

Grounding/Earthing:

This is probably the most effective thing you can do to combat stress (beyond your social connections). Grounding causes your autonomic nervous system to have more tranquility, and lowers inflammation in your body.

You can do this by simply putting your bare feet on grass, (preferably wet), unpainted concrete, sand, or dirt. Indoors you can use a grounding mat or pad that plugs into your house wiring and grounds you to the outside.

In either case the more time you spend grounded, the more benefits you will notice. The difference? Just a noticeable absence of pain and tension, and an enhanced feeling of calm and well being. You should notice the difference within an hour of being grounded, and you will feel even better as time goes on.

Grounding also reduces the “stickiness” of your blood, and prevents blood clots that can cause strokes and other forms of heart disease. Heart rate variability, which is the ability of your heart to adjust it’s output to changing physical demands is also improved by grounding.

Everyone should be grounding themselves whenever possible. It’s that effective and important!

Anti-inflammatory Diet:

Eating foods that don’t cause your body to increase inflammation is very important. Things like:

sugar
trans fats
smoking
excessive alcohol consumption

are all things that will increase inflammation. These things are best avoided, or at least consumed in moderation.  Anti-inflammatory foods are those that contain antioxidants, omega 3 fats, flavinoids, and other nutrients that quite inflammation in your body.

Meditation/Relaxation Tapes:

Medication can help you calm your mind and make your nervous system more tranquil and calm, much like grounding. There are courses in meditation that you can take, and once you learn, you can use meditation to calm yourself wherever you are.

Another option is the use of relaxation tapes or CDs to alter your brainwave patterns and produce a more tranquil state of mind. These sound technologies are specifically engineered to have calming effects very similar to what you would get with meditation.

In fact, it can be said that in effect they “meditate you.” The advantage is that there is no learning curve with this technology. You just plug in the device and listen to the tape, Cd, or digitized sound file on a portable device like am Ipod.

Adaptogenic Herbs:

Adaptogens were first studied and classified by the Soviet scientists to help their athletes and military deal with both physical and emotional stress. These herbs modulate (control) the stress response of the human body and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

The most famous of these is Rhodiola or Artic Root, but there are a number of others that perform similar functions. They are called adaptogens because they help the body adapt to stress and maintain what is called “homeostasis,” a state where the body’s is in balance and remaining healthy.

Stress and Cholesterol the Takeaway Message

Try not to think of the negative aspects of stress as simply raising cholesterol. That’s not what the real problem is. The issue is that your body was not meant to be in a continual state of preparation for fight or flight.

That state is only for emergencies, but if you are in that state too long or too often, your system becomes dangerously unbalanced and this can lead of chronic and life threatening diseases.

laughter beats stressCholesterol levels aside, learning how to lower your stress levels is THE most important thing you can do for good health and a long and happy life!

Your family, friends, and community connections are THE most important factor in avoiding heart disease or any other chronic disease.  Happiness and laughter are the best medicine!

 

By – Eve Pierce

Heart disease is a huge concern in the US at present. On average, 600,000 people per year die in this country as a result or to put it more starkly, 1 in 4 per annum; a quarter of the country’s annual deaths.

healthy-heartIt is America’s most significant killer and incidences of the condition are on the rise. But, for many, the facts of heart disease are shrouded in mystery. What exactly causes it? Is there any way it can it be avoided? Are the causes obvious, or are there causes that are lesser known?

And most importantly; what can be done in terms of lifestyle and dietary change, to ensure that the illness is avoided? For those seeking to promote longevity in their lives, it is vital to address these issues, in order to maintain a healthy heart and to live a long and fulfilling life.

What is Heart Disease?

Considering how often the phrase is used in society, it is often one of the most misunderstood medical terms. Heart disease does not simply refer to heart attack (though coronary disease still remains the most common; killing on average, 385,000 people per annum).

It can refer to a whole range of conditions affecting the heart, including heart rhythm problems and infections. Alarmingly, few Americans are aware of the symptoms; which is a contributing factor to the high rate of death among sufferers. Symptoms include:

  •     Shortness of breath.
  •     Pain in the upper body, particularly in the arms, neck, back or upper stomach.
  •     Cold sweats, dizziness or nausea.
  •     Chest pain.

It is a good idea to be aware of the symptoms, but a far better idea is to be aware of the preventative measures that can be taken to ensure that heart disease never occurs.

Causes of Heart Disease

As might be expected, major contributory factors are diet and lifestyle. A major cause of heart disease has been attributed to foods that are high in polyunsaturated oils and processed carbohydrates; foods which are still sadly all too prevalent in the US. In addition to this, food that is high in processed salt content, and trans fats are considered to be large contributors to heart disease.

Exercise (or lack of) is also a considerable factor, as is smoking. However, there are some lesser known and rarer causes; such as spasms of the arteries caused by certain drugs and medications, trauma to the chest and even other diseases, such as Kawasaki disease.

Recent research has also uncovered other interesting suggestions of lesser known causes, such as the link between cardiovascular disease and baldness in males. However, all experts agree that, with appropriate adjustments to lifestyle and eating habits, heart disease can be avoided by a significant proportion of the US population.

How to Avoid Heart Disease and Promote Longevity

When making lifestyle changes, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. When making plans to change your way of living to avoid heart disease, an excellent place to start is with diet. Avoid fried foods and anything that contains trans fats. Start cutting down on processed table salt, which can cause problems for those people with elevated blood pressure

Avoid adding unnecessary amounts of salt to your cooking and avoid eating heavily salted products, such as potato chips and fries. When considering introducing exercise into your life, aim for little and often, at the start, rather than less frequently but more intensively. When you become more fit, you can increase the intensity of your exercise as appropriate.

Experts recommend taking a brisk walk for ten minutes, three times a day; at least five days of the week. Sometimes, introducing this can be as simple as opting to walk to the local store rather than drive there; or choosing to walk the dog three times a day, rather than once. If you are a smoker, try quitting (smokefree.gov has great tips to get you started) and it is also advised to cut down on alcoholic intake.

Healthy Heart; Happy Head

Focus on developing a positive attitude when changing your lifestyle for the better. For those who are used to viewing exercise as unpleasant and fast food and candy as a ‘treat’, having the willpower to make the changes can be tough. Rather than focusing on what you’re missing, think forwards and visualize where you want to be in the future; fit, healthy and heart disease free.

Cholesterol lowering exercise has three basic functions, to lower triglycerides and LDL, lower blood sugar, and to raise HDL cholesterol. Any form of exercise that does those three things will help.

kettlebell exerciseExercise and cholesterol are inversely related. This simply means that the more exercise you do, the more you can reduce your cholesterol levels, provided you are exercising correctly.

Most of the studies on exercise and cholesterol were done on aerobic exercise like  running or jogging. These activities are reported to lower LDL between 5-10%, and raise HDL cholesterol from 3-6%. These are estimates in a range of results, so your individual results may be more or less than this.

The important thing is that any activity is beneficial, and you have to modify the type of cholesterol lowering exercise to suit your individual circumstances. For instance, if you have injuries or orthopedic problems, you might want to do some kind of exercise in a pool that is non impact like swimming, or other water exercise. Even walking is preferable to being idle.

With that said, lets look at what types of cholesterol lowering exercise is best  and what makes these forms of exercise so effective.

Aerobic Exercise

This form of exercise utilizes oxygen as you go and will raise HDL cholesterol. It is the most studied form of exercise to help prevent heart disease. However I would caution that aerobics can be overdone, and have negative effects on your hormonal system if you do them too long at a slow steady pace because it raises cortisol which is a stress hormone that is bad for the heart.

Interval Training

Interval training is a great compromise as it can increase heart and lung function, but will not negatively effect your hormonal system. Interval training utilizes short intense bursts of exercise followed by a slowdown or rest period.

Heavyhands and kettlebell training are two examples of exercise that use interval training rather than steady state cardiovascular exercise. Intervals are not specific to the exercise device or equipment, rather it is exercise pace and timing that makes interval training so effective.

A good example of this is the PACE program of Dr. Al Sears M.D. This program utilizes a form of interval training to raise peak fitness and prepare the heart and lungs for occasional bursts of intense activity.

It is the stress of sudden intense activity in an unconditioned person that is most likely to trigger a heart attack, so getting the body used to handling this stress can protect against it.

Kettlebells

Kettlebell training is my favorite form of cholesterol lowering exercise,  because it combines strength training with cardiovascular exercise at the same time. It will help maintain muscle mass, which will lower triglycerides by keeping blood sugar low.

As I mentioned previously, you can do interval training  very effectively with kettlebells but you have to be cautious and make sure you use proper technique as these exercise implements can be tricky to handle.  I strongly suggest you either get professional instruction, or purchase a good book or DVD that teaches how to do these exercises properly.

Kettlebell training can help raise HDL cholesterol because of the cardiovascular aspects of this exercise. Since you cannot adjust the weight of a kettlebell, you will need to come up with creative ways to make the exercises more intense and physically demanding. This form of training seems to be very effective for burning stored bodyfat , which is important when exercising for heart health.

The Bottom Line

Cholesterol lowering exercise can range from light simple exercise like walking to intense exercise like intervals or kettlebell training. The most important thing is that it fits your physical limitations, lifestyle, and individual needs.

Start easy and keep it simple, but get moving and make regular exercise a part of your life. You will look and feel better, and will lower cholesterol naturally.