A major factor that is usually overlooked in conventional approaches to heart problems is stress -both physical and psychological. Of course, stress in the form of exercise or a challenging job can be very good for you, but chronic stress from poor working conditions, a bullying boss or too many deadlines can damage your health and your heart. Studies have shown that those of us who are regularly stressed have a live-fold increased risk of dying from heart-related problems.

Stress affects the heart because you respond to it by producing adrenalin, which pushes up blood sugar levels, raises blood pressure and increases both blood clotting agents and LDL cholesterol. Meanwhile, extra amounts of the stress hormone cortisol encourage the storage of dangerous ‘visceral’ fat in the abdomen. Visceral fat is strongly connected to metabolic syndrome, which, as you know, is a big risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.

What is noticeable is that the effects of negative stress are similar to the symptoms that show up in men with very low testosterone (see Secret 10) and people who are developing metabolic syndrome, ‘which also leads to heart disease and diabetes. In all cases, they can be significantly helped through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.

A vital part of any healthy heart regime involves turning off a damaging stress response. ‘lhere are plenty of ways to do this, such as exercise, watching your football team or organising an enjoyable social evening. and you may remember that in Secret 4 we spoke about the tremendous value of the HeartMath techniques. You can see on page 162 the benefits in reduced blood pressure measured in a workplace study of employees with hypertension after three months of practising HeartMath. The participants also reported improvements in emotional health including reductions in stress symptoms, depression and an increase in peacefulness and positive outlook.

In a hospital study on 75 patients suffering abnormal heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation) who’d been taught the HeartMath techniques and practised it for three months, 71 reported substantial improvements in their physical and emotional health; 56 experienced such improvements in their ability to control their heart rhythms and hypertension that they ‘ were able to decrease their medication; and 14 were able to discontinue medication altogether.
You might also want to learn how to meditate: a study run by the Maharishi University of 202 people with hypertension followed up over 19 years found it can drop heart disease deaths by 30 per cent. You can also learn how to shift your outlook from pessimistic to optimistic by using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and how to handle stress; in live-year trials, this produced 50 per cent fewer heart attacks. The exercise system Psychocalisthenics, which includes the breathing exercise Diakath Breathing, is also an excellent way of reducing stress.
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