By now, most of us know heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women and that eating a healthy diet and being physically active can help prevent risk factors that lead to heart disease. But many are surprised to learn depression and anxiety are highly associated with the increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  In fact, among healthy individuals, depression doubles the risk of sudden cardiac death and can increase the chances of having a heart attack or stroke by 60 percent or more. The impact is even greater in people who already have a cardiac condition.  Additionally, the results of a decade long study exploring cardiovascular mortality indicated that depression may be equally as dangerous as having high cholesterol and obesity. Since both heart disease and depression are highly prevalent, the search for adjunctive therapeutic approaches to address these bidirectional conditions continues.

While healthy lifestyle habits are the best protection, here are 10 activities and practices that have been shown to help beat the blues and benefit your ticker:

1) Laugh— Laughter can decrease stress hormones, reduce artery inflammation, raise HDLs (the “good” cholesterol), and increase blood flow by 20 percent. It also boosts mood and the immune system.

2) Be Optimistic—A positive outlook benefits mental health through its inverse relationship with depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation. In terms of heart health, studies show optimists often have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of coronary artery disease.

3) Read--Getting lost in a book can lower levels of cortisol and other hormones related to stress, by 68 percent. Chronic elevations of stress hormones can lead to elevated heart rates, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Reading fiction also increases compassion towards others and oneself — which supports self-growth and healing, as well as a decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression.

4) Socialize--Maintaining good relationships with family and friends is good for your heart, memory and longevity. Research shows those with strong social support networks, such as close family members or friends to confide in and socialize with, have a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and dementia and are generally healthier and live longer.

5) Walk—studies show moderate intensity walking (100 steps per minute) for approximately 4 hours per week can reduce risks for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. Walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can increase lifespan by an average of 3.5 years, according to a published study. An average person walks 7,500 steps per day. Walking outside – or spending time in green space – can reduce negative thoughts and boost self-esteem.

6) Deep Breathing-- In moments of stress, or anytime during the day, this could bring many benefits such as better circulation, decreased anxiety, reduced heart rate and blood pressure, and a quicker recovery from the fight-flight-or-freeze stress response.

7) Volunteer-- Studies have shown that volunteering gives a greater sense of purpose and more opportunities to feel socially connected—thus, warding off loneliness and depression. Findings from a 2013 Carnegie Mellon study showed 200 hours of volunteering per year correlated to lower blood pressure, while other studies have found health benefits from as little as 100 hours per year.

8) Meditate-- Intentional and self-regulated focusing of attention for the purpose of relaxing can calm the mind and body. It has been long touted as a means to manage emotions and reduce stress. A growing body of evidence also suggests it may be associated with lower blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart attack.

9) Play Music—Listening to music has been shown to reduce stress levels and boost mood, but researchers at Mindlab International found that study participants who listened to the song “Weightless” by Marconi Union experienced a striking 65 percent reduction in overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their baseline physiological resting rates.   TRY THIS.

10) Hydrate-- New research shows hydration levels play a significant role in the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, and even mild dehydration causes cardiovascular impairments similar to cigarette smoking. Recent studies also show that mild dehydration causes mental, mood and cognitive declines.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America
American Heart Association
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Optimism and your health. 
Hydration levels affect cardiovascular health, new study finds. (2016, March 2).
LaCroix, A. Z., et al. (1996, February). Does walking decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease hospitalizations and death in older adults? 
Nauert, R. (2018, August 8). Dehydration Influences Mood, Cognition. 
Reading 'can help reduce stress'. (2009, March 30). 
Shawn, T. (2018, July 8). Why Novel Reading Reduces Anxiety. 
Sin, N. L. (2016, November). The Protective Role of Positive Well-Being in Cardiovascular Disease: Review of Current Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Implications. 
Sneed, R. S., & Cohen, S. (2013). A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 28(2), 578–586.
Social and emotional health. (n.d.). 
Sugawara, J., Tarumi, T., & Tanaka, H. (2010). Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Vascular Function. The American Journal of Cardiology, 106(6), 856–859. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2010.05.011 
Team, V. (2019, November 20). 3 Ways That Laughter Can Give You a Healthier Heart. 



These materials are provided to you by Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s
Eat Well, Be Well Nutrition Outreach Program.
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Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well Program

Blythedale Children's Hospital, through the generosity of Kohl’s Department Stores, is proud to offer Blythedale and Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well, an innovative outreach program designed to bring health and nutrition education to schools throughout Westchester and Putnam counties. Through this program, Blythedale staff members teach healthy eating habits to children by providing curricula, training and educational tools to school districts throughout the area. The program provides general nutrition guidelines to students, parents and school faculty. Blythedale Children's Hospital offers experts in nutrition and health-education to speak with local parenting groups, PTAs and school personnel.

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