3 Heart-Healthy Ways to Reduce StressAround 60 percent of Americans have made it a goal to reduce stress. Those are encouraging statistics. Not only is stress emotionally challenging, but high stress levels can have an impact on the heart by impacting blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

That’s why it’s important to be intentional about finding ways to reduce stress levels. But that’s easier said than done, right? We live in a fast-paced society—and even if you’re not in work-obsessed America, chances are you have other stressors: relationships, family responsibilities, finances or health concerns.

If you’re looking to reduce your stress levels, here are three ways to do so:

1. Breathe deeply

Stress causes breathing to naturally become shallower and quicker. Even if you can’t remove whatever is making you feel stressed, simply breathing deeply can benefit the heart and entire body. Research has shown that what’s known as “pranayamic breathing”—manipulating breath movement—can result in heart health benefits: decreased oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate and decreased blood pressure.

I recommend breathing in through the nose, taking in as much air as you can, and then breathing out through the mouth, expelling as much air as possible. Do this for 10 minutes a day, if you can, but even 10 breaths can help.

2. Get outside

Living in an urban environment like I do makes it difficult to spend time in nature. But research published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine (EHPM) shows why it’s so important. The study was conducted in 24 forests across Japan, and research participants spent time “forest bathing,” or taking in the atmosphere of the forest. The researchers found that forest bathing promoted lower cortisol levels (the hormone related to stress), pulse rates and blood pressure levels, among other positive health effects.

Any time outside is beneficial, even if you don’t have a forest nearby. I enjoy walking my dogs in the morning—getting fresh air, seeing the trees and greenery, and just getting moving. Cycling is another way I spend ample time outside, and I get to enjoy views of the ocean, palm trees and other beautiful scenery outside. Just being outside helps me feel less stressed, and any amount of stress reduction supports heart health.

3. Move your body

Exercise is so central to my life that it’s hard to remember how I felt before I worked movement into my schedule. But I do know that I just feel better—and a lot of that likely has to do with exercise helping reduce my stress levels.

Exercise increases “feel-good” hormones called endorphins and can boost mood and reduce anxiety. Being active also gets you away from the things that are stressing you out—and, for some people, provides time to mentally work through problems. Plus, exercise increases overall health and heart function, two things anyone can benefit from.

You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you deal with it. Reducing stress levels can help make difficult situations easier to handle. And by keeping your stress levels in check, you’ll benefit your heart and body—and feel better in the process.

What do you do to reduce stress levels?


[1] http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/impact.aspx?item=2
[2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987706001666
[3] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9#page-1