People who feel highly “stressed” are at increased risk for coronary artery disease, according to an analysis of six large observational studies published recently in the American Journal of Cardiology. Those who scored high on questions like “What is the level of stress in your daily life?” and “How often do you feel stressed?” were 27 percent more likely to be diagnosed or hospitalized with heart disease.
High perceived stress is as bad for the heart as a 50-point increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, the researchers estimated. While objective measures of “stress” have consistently been linked to heart conditions, this study shows that how people perceive and handle the stress matters, too.
Another study suggested that stress reduction—with meditation—has health benefits for people who have coronary artery disease. The study, which was conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), involved 201 obese black men and women with coronary artery disease, mostly with low incomes. Half practiced Transcendental Meditation (20 minutes, twice a day), while half were given health education and told to spend at least 20 minutes a day at home doing heart-healthy activities.
After five years, the meditation group had 48 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes and deaths from all causes (though, oddly, not significantly fewer cardiovascular deaths) than the control group, as well as lower blood pressure and less stress and anger.