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Stress Management May Reduce Risk of Second Heart Incident in Recovering Patients

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. A recent study suggests that people recovering from heart attack or other heart problems could reduce the risk of having another heart incident by half if they include stress management in their treatment.

Participants in the study included 151 outpatients between the ages of 36 and 84 with coronary heart disease who were enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation as a result of heart blockages, chest pain, heart attacks, or bypass surgery. Stress levels were determined via self-reporting of the participants on their levels of depression, anxiety, anger, and perceived stress.

Half of the participants took part in a three-month traditional cardiac rehabilitation program — which included exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and drugs to manage cholesterol and high blood pressure. The other half underwent the same rehab program but also had weekly 90-minute stress management groups that included support, cognitive behavior therapy, muscle relaxation, and other stress reduction techniques. Additionally, a matched sample of cardiac rehabilitation eligible patients who did not receive any cardiac rehabilitation were used as a comparison group. The researchers followed all of the patients for an average of three years after their rehab period.

At the conclusion of the study, 33% of the rehab-only group had another cardiovascular event. However, only 18% of the rehab plus stress management group experienced another cardiovascular event. Finally, 47% of the heart patients who chose not to attend any rehab at all had another cardiovascular event or died.

Researchers from Duke Healthy conducted the study. It was published online ahead of print on March 21, 2016, in Circulation.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems and weight gain. Methods to lower your stress levels include meditation, yoga, and lifestyle changes.

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