You should always strive to keep your heart healthy. However, as we age and our risk of cardiovascular disease increases, it may become more of a priority in your life. And as it turns out, stress can play a major role in the health of your heart.

“During times of stress, the body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, leading to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate,” explains Dr. Evelyn Darius, a physician with PlushCare. “Over time, chronic stress can lead to inflammation and damage to the blood vessels and arteries, making it more difficult for blood to flow through them.” For this reason, chronic stress can lead to heart damage and increase your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke over time.

Luckily, there are many ways to reduce your stress levels in order to lower your risk of these conditions. “The good news is that our bodies are very adaptable, and there are several habits that people over 40 can adopt to reduce stress and the risk of heart disease,” Dr. Darius assures us. She says that incorporating healthy habits like exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, trying out techniques like meditation, and getting enough sleep are all great ways to keep your stress levels low and your heart healthy. Learn more about the benefits of each of these habits below!

READ MORE: Here’s How Stress Really Affects Your Digestion, According To A GI Expert

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1. Exercise regularly

It's no secret that getting regular exercise is integral to your overall health—and it isn't just your physical health that can reap the benefits of getting up and moving. Dr. Darius notes that exercising regularly is one of the best ways to mitigate stress and keep your heart healthy.

"Physical activity can help reduce stress by releasing endorphins and other feel-good hormones," she says. "Regular exercise can also improve cardiovascular health, boost cognitive function, and help maintain or achieve a healthy weight. Additionally, exercise can provide a distraction from stressful thoughts or situations, allowing the mind to relax and focus on the activity at hand."

She notes that fitting ample exercise into your day is also a great way to improve your sleep quality and boosting your sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, which are all crucial factors when it comes to keeping stress at bay.

READ MORE: Personal Trainers Say These Are The Exercises You Should Do Every Day For A Stronger Heart Over 50

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2. Follow a healthy, well-balanced diet

Your diet is a major factor in all areas of your overall health. As it turns out, eating a balanced diet is even crucial when it comes to keeping your stress levels low and your heart as healthy as possible.

"Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help prevent or manage various health conditions, including heart disease," Dr. Darius tells us. "Avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, and saturated or trans fats can also help reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, and the risk of cardiovascular disease."

READ MORE: 6 Heart Healthy Foods Nutritionists Say You Should Be Eating Everyday Over 50 For a Longer Life


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3. Engage in stress-reducing activities

Don't underestimate the power of a good meditative moment or a daily yoga practice! Incorporating stress-reducing activities into your day is one of the best ways not only to improve your mental and emotional health, but also to ensure the health of your heart.

"Incorporating activities like meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga, making time for social connections with loved ones, having hobbies or massage therapy can help reduce stress and promote feelings of relaxation, calmness, and well-being," Dr. Darius says, suggesting breathing exercises in particular. "Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, are a simple yet effective way to reduce stress," she tells us.

In fact, she cites one study conducted by Harvard Medical School, which found that deep breathing activates the relaxation response and helps to quell the body's stress response.

"Meditation and mindfulness practices have also been found to be effective in reducing stress levels," Dr. Darius suggests.

Read more about relaxation techniques here.

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4. Get enough sleep

The amount of sleep you get (or don't get) can make a major difference in your health. Poor sleep doesn't just leave you feeling sleepy; it can also contribute to impaired cognitive function, poor mental and emotional health, and, ultimately, physical health issues—including when it comes to your heart.

"Poor sleep quality or insufficient sleep can contribute to stress and increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and other health problems," Dr. Darius warns. She says you should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night and create a relaxing bedtime routine in order to prevent these issues.

You can find more tips for achieving a more restful sleep here.

The bottom line

Ultimately, figuring out the best stress management methods for yourself can be a personal pursuit; understanding what works for you may take some trial and error. However, when it comes to some universal ways to keep your stress levels low and your heart healthy, getting ample exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and making sure you're getting enough sleep are all rules to live by.

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