MBMC > Media Spotlight >

By Susan Hayes | Prevention.com | September 21, 2004

Protect your blood-pumping muscle by increasing relaxation and exercise time

Garden-variety stress–little spats, minor frustrations, short-lived blue moods–can raise your odds for fatal and irregular heartbeats, new research suggests.

When 135 heart patients tracked their moods for 2 days while wearing portable heart monitors, scientists found that “as stress increased, heart rate variability–the heart’s ability to beat faster or slower in response to emotion or physical demands–decreased,” notes researcher Simon Bacon, PhD, of Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur in Montreal.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a cutting-edge measurement of cardiovascular health. It’s so new that your doctor can’t check it with a simple test, and so subtle that you can’t assess it by taking your own pulse.

“More HRV means your heart is better able to adapt to changing circumstances,” Bacon says. Less HRV means nerves and heart muscle can’t respond easily to change, potentially leading to out-of-rhythm beats or an abrupt, fatal stop. About 250,000 Americans die each year from sudden cardiac arrest.

Stress may reduce HRV by affecting nerves that control the heart, Bacon says. What you can do: Soothe and protect your heart with stress reduction and exercise. Preliminary evidence suggests that both improve HRV.

Copyright (c) Rodale, Inc. 2004