Self-Care Improves Mental Health and Heart Health

February 1, 2021

February Is American Heart Month

MERCERVILLE - While scientists and experts are still learning about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the heart, there is evidence that people who have pre-existing heart conditions are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Pre-existing conditions, such as hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels, increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 because these conditions cause inflammation and increase the risk of developing blood clots. According to Harvard University, this compounds the effects of COVID-19. Other pre-existing heart conditions, such as damaged heart muscle and blocked arteries, weaken the body's ability to survive the stress resulting from COVID-19. Therefore, people with a pre-existing cardiac condition are not only at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, but will be more likely to be severely ill if they contract COVID-19.

Mental health plays an important part in overall health, including heart health. The mental health disorders that are associated with heart disease and risk factors related to heart disease are mood disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress. People who experience these mental illnesses over a long period of time can experience increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced blood flow to the heart and higher levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress. Anxiety and depression also increase the likelihood that a person will adopt behaviors, such as smoking and leading an inactive lifestyle. Over time, these factors could lead to heart disease. Additionally, people experiencing mental illness are also likely to have fewer coping strategies to reduce the risk of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is evidence that mental illnesses can also develop after experiencing a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

"COVID-19 places an emphasis on the importance of how mental and biological health can impact each other. It has been shown that the consequences of not addressing one's mental and physical health can be detrimental. Engaging in self-care activities and establishing healthy habits, such as maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough sleep, can have a positive impact not only on physical health, but also mental health," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA.

According to the National Institutes of Health, acts of self-care can help decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. These activities include daily physical activity, such as a 30 minute socially distant walk, sleeping seven to eight hours per night and cooking meals that are low in sodium and do not contain unhealthy fats. Stress can also be managed through meditation and yoga. Taking an integrated approach by completing mental and physical health screenings and seeking needed treatment can help lead to more effective care and a higher quality of life.

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