We all know that stress can affect physical health in a number of ways, partially because it weakens the immune system. Studies have also found that stress influences cardiovascular health, increasing the risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. In a recent study, it was found that the stress caused by trying to balance work and family, or work-family conflict affects women more than men, contributing to this risk. This may be one reason women face a greater risk overall of suffering from a cardiovascular event.
Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors
Diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels all fall under the broader term of cardiovascular disease, and many of those conditions are caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition resulting from plaque accumulation on the walls of the arteries, which causes blood flow to become inhibited. Since blood flows more slowly, clots can form that block blood from passing through the arteries and reaching the brain, heart and other vital organs, boosting the probability that a stroke or heart attack will occur.
There are certain factors that can increase your risk for developing cardiovascular disease, which are listed below.
As we get older, the heart grows weaker and the arteries constrict or grow more narrow.
Early in life, men face a greater risk. However, as women get older and experience menopause, their risks increase significantly.
A family history of heart disease increases risks for developing it later in life.
Nicotine causes your blood vessels to narrow, while cigarette smoke also weakens the blood vessel walls from the inside.
Fat, sugar, cholesterol and salt all contribute to the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels.
Other conditions that raise your risks include obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stress.
Most people may suspect that they suffer from cardiovascular disease because the symptoms are not difficult to recognize. Primarily, symptoms include chest pains, including tightness and general discomfort in the chest. These episodes are typically accompanied by shortness of breath or labored breath. It’s common for the blood vessels in the legs and arms to become constricted and weakened as well. When this occurs, you’ll feel numbness, weakness or pain in your limbs. The limbs may also feel cold. Pain may also be felt in the jaw, throat, neck, back or upper abdomen.
How Does Work-Family Conflict Stress Affect Cardiovascular Health?
Recent research examining how work-family conflict affects women has found that stress, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, is greater for women who struggle to maintain a balance between work and family life. The researchers looked over 27 studies to find a correlation between work-related stress and a higher risk of developing certain cardiovascular diseases. In particular, work-related stress was associated with a higher risk for experiencing stroke and coronary heart disease.
Taking it a step further, a newer study looked specifically at how trying to establish a proper work-family balance affected stress and cardiovascular risks. They looked at several lifestyle factors to help them gain an accurate understanding of these correlations, including diet, blood pressure and physical activity. The study sought to identify how stress caused by both work and by family pressure affected stress and health.
The Brazilian study examined a group of 11,000 subjects, ranging in ages from 35 through 74. Education and work backgrounds varied among the subjects, although women made up a higher portion of the individuals in the group. In addition to recording blood pressure and cardiovascular health, subjects were asked to complete surveys that examined how their jobs and family lives affected one another.
More women than men reported that their work lives interfered with their family lives, while both genders reported similar interference of their family lives on their work lives. It was also found that, when looking solely at job stress in general, the levels were fairly equal between the two sexes. Researchers believe the disparities noted are due to the fact that women may feel a greater need to try to maintain their traditional role in the home as they pursue careers. The way that work-family conflict affects women creates greater levels of stress than in men, who may not ordinarily face that same situation.
How Can You Protect Your Cardiovascular Health?
Ditch the Empty Calories
One of the first things you should do to protect cardiovascular health is to get rid of foods that don’t contribute to good heart health. Primarily, this means throwing out items that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. Soda pop, baked goods and sugary cereals top that list.
Take a Supplement
You can also include a dietary supplement in your program with vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants specifically designed to support cardiovascular function.
Snack Smart Throughout Your Day
Rather than eating three big meals every day, it’s important to eat wisely. It’s best to start off with a moderate breakfast that includes good natural sources of protein and fiber. An omelet that’s prepared with fresh veggies is one suggestion. For the remainder of the day, choose healthy snacks to munch on periodically, such as almonds, carrot sticks and cheese. This will help you eat less at dinner.
Get More Exercise
The minimum requirement for physical activity is 30 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise every day. However, you should try to get more physical activity than that each day. You can choose the parking space that’s furthest from the entrance, take the stairs instead of the elevator or ride a bicycle to run errands to increase the amount of exercise you do.
Sleep Better Every Night
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. This is a restful period for the body, but it also gives your brain and body time to recover. You should put away electronic devices at least one hour before bed and use that time to engage in relaxing activities. You can read, meditate or listen to music. When it is time for bed, be sure your room is cool and relaxing. You may have to buy new bedding that’s more comfortable or wear earplugs and a sleep mask to sleep more soundly.