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Your money or your life: How your finances can impact your heart health

Feb 2, 2012, 6 a.m.

Years ago, it was thought that the only risk factors for heart attacks were through physical exertion and bad habits, like smoking or poor diet leading to obesity. But the more doctors learn about how the body works, in particular how the body and the mind work together, it's become clear that chronic stress can be just as bad for your ticker as overdoing it on the treadmill, smoking, and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

According to doctors, worry over personal finances can greatly increase your chances of having a heart attack. The proof of that assertion can be found in various studies that reinforce the strong need for lowering stress and stress management. These studies show us that money worries can not only increase your risk factor, but it can also lead to relapses in cardiovascular health following a heart attack.

For example, did you know that half of all heart attack patients who experienced chronic stress over their finances ended up back in the hospital within a year? This is balanced out by the equally shocking figure that tells us that of those heart attack patients who were in a position to not have to worry about finances, only one-third were readmitted to the hospital within a year for the same reason.

This tells us a lot, and points a finger to chronic stress over finances as one of the chief causes of heart attacks -- in addition to being a significant contributing factor to second heart attacks. This doesn't mean that money stress is the only culprit, but it does give us plenty of reason to think that its influence is wide and far reaching.

So what's the solution? Unfortunately, it's not going to be quite as simple as we'd all like it to be. Obviously, not having to worry about finances anymore sounds like an attractive alternative. But the reality is, we can't all become millionaires overnight. Most people worry about money on a regular basis and are going to continue to do so. The trick is to not allow financial worries to develop into the kind of chronic stress that can leave a lasting negative impact on your health. Taking steps toward lowering stress and stress management is therefore about as important as quitting smoking and going on a heart healthy diet. Therefore, there are 3 key things you should be doing to rid yourself of chronic stress:

  1. Get regular exercise. This isn't only good for your body, but it's also good for your stress levels and allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
  2. Communicate with your friends, family, and loved ones regularly about things that are troubling you. Bottling up your emotions, especially when there's great stress associated with them, can only cause you psychological and physical harm.
  3. Get plenty of sleep. Few people realize how critical a good night's sleep is to our health and longevity. If you're not getting enough sleep, it can complicate stress and have a seriously negative impact on your physical health.

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