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Christopher Leet, MD, FACC
Stress The Silent Thief
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Stress The Silent Thief

The news reported that a mans car left the road and hit a tree while driving through Bostons rush-hour traffic. The untold story was that the man was wearing a heart monitor that his physician had prescribed.
The monitor recorded the journey from the perspective of his heart. As one stressor after another occurred on the commute, the monitor revealed an escalation of heart response.
Initially there were minor heart irregularities which increased and increased, until finally his heart developed ventricular fibrillationcardiac arrestand he lost consciousness.
The monitor also revealed a bit of good fortune as the steering wheel concussion caused his heart to start up again. This bit of luck gave him the opportunity to take control of his future health and longevity by learning to manage his response to stress.
Most people will not have the visible evidence provided by a monitor each day to indicate when their heart and health are at risk because of stress and it should not take such a traumatic event to convince us to manage stress.
Recent televised discussions on the premature aging of Presidents provided visual evidence of the impact of stress on the body. Before and after pictures of presidents showed premature aging of their faces, graying of hair and shortened lives. Study after study confirms that stress breaks down a persons health and thereby decreases your lifespan. If you wish to be healthy and live a long life, you must learn to control episodic and chronic stress in your life.
What does stress actually do to the body? Medically, cortisone-like substances cause sugar levels to rise and the kidneys to retain salt. The cortisone response causes you to eat more and drives up blood pressure. Recent studies on the immune system indicate that a chronic rise in cortisone may weaken the bodys ability to fight off infections, and may actually increase the risk of cancer. Adrenaline causes the heart to race and blood pressure to rise. These are the bodys “fight-or-flight” responses. The adrenaline response causes arteries to constrict, leading to high blood pressure and increased strain on the heart, brain, and kidneys.
Stress occurs largely from a lack of control, whether real or perceived. I believe a philosophy that instructs that only a comprehensive, mind/body approach to wellness can truly optimize health and renew vitality for life. We must prevent excess stress, when we can, through lifestyle changes and for unavoidable stress, we must learn to minimize its impact on the body through tension-taming techniques that activate the bodys relaxation response. Take a deep breath, exhale your tensions, be grateful for all your blessings and “Dont let yesterday use up too much of today”. (American Indian Proverb)

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