Stress is a part of life, but prolonged, unmanaged stress can have significant effects on your health — particularly your heart. Although summer has a carefree image, there are plenty of opportunities for unwanted stress to creep into your life.
Use the following tips to have a heart-healthy, stress-free summer.
1. Exercise safely
Exercise is an important way to relieve and manage stress. However, summertime poses unique challenges that could have the opposite effect on your body if you aren’t careful.
As temperatures rise above 74°F, heart attack-related deaths increase, found a study published in the journal Heart.
Your body cools down through radiation (when the heart reroutes more blood to the skin) and through evaporation (i.e., sweating). Both of these mechanisms put extra strain your heart.
Whether you have a heart condition or not, take the following precautions to prevent heat-related illness like dehydration, heat rash, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Avoid exercising outside from 11-3 p.m. when the sun is at its strongest.
- Wear weather-appropriate gear to stay cool, such as water-whisking shirts and ventilated sneakers.
- Hydrate often. Keep water with you at all times and drink regularly.
- Workout with a buddy in case one of you gets in trouble.
Summer is a beautiful season, but be sure to enjoy the outdoors safely so you don't add stress to your heart.
2. Leave work at work
School may be out, but work continues. If you are one of the 44 percent of Americans who experience high levels of stress, you might be putting your heart at risk (not to mention your happiness). Give yourself a break and leave work at work when you leave for the day.
Here are some things you can do to give your work and personal life a healthy separation:
- Unplug from work when you get home. Turn your work phone off or set your notifications as away so you aren’t tempted to check in every hour. Let co-workers know that you won’t be available after 6 p.m. or whenever you get off work. Most problems and questions can wait.
- Set aside time to meditate or decompress so you can arrive home relaxed. You join a yoga class after work or simply take 10 minutes in your car or at home to wind down.
- If work concerns keep you up at night, try making a to-do list before bed to help relieve your mind of anxieties about the upcoming day. By getting them down on paper, you help your mind let go of the thoughts until you can address them tomorrow.
3. Get enough sleep
Americans today are getting less and less sleep, but cutting corners on your sleep puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, says the National Sleep Foundation.
In the long term, you and your heart will be healthier, happier and more productive if you make a habit of getting the full 7-9 hours of sleep recommended for adults.
But how to do this during a hot, sticky summer?
Crank the air conditioning, turn on a fan, open a window and wear lightweight pajamas. Take a cool shower before bed to bring down your body temperature and help you get comfortable more quickly.
Keep in mind that summer daylight hours are longer. Consider closing the blinds or investing in blackout curtains to keep your room dark throughout the night and early morning, so you aren’t woken prematurely.
4. Vacation right
Ironically, there is no shortage of stress associated with vacation. From visiting family and traveling with kids to ignoring work emails and ironing out lodging details, vacations aren’t always the rejuvenating retreats we imagine.
In fact, "poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate the positive benefit of time away," says the Harvard Business Review.
Vacations — or any time off to relax and recharge — are an important way to relieve stress when done right. To make sure your vacation is stress-reducing instead of stress-inducing be sure to:
- Plan and budget for a vacation ahead of time. With a little preparation, you can avoid last-minute stresses related to itinerary and travel plans.
- Carve out space in your itinerary for downtime to rest and rejuvenate (alone if possible). Even if you like to go, go, go on your trips, taking a moment to relax can help you avoid burning yourself out and keep you sane.
- Unplug from work. If you must check in, do so only at set times, such as once every day after dinner. Let your co-workers know you’re away and have a plan in place for who is responsible for your work while you’re gone so questions and concerns can be channeled to them until you get back.
With a little bit of planning and healthy boundaries, you can have a stress-free, heart-healthy vacation.
This summer, protect your heart by practicing healthy habits and managing your stress levels. For more information about how you can care for your heart, talk to specialists like those at Cardiac Care Group. Whether you're managing a current heart condition or want to learn what you can do for your long-term health, they can help.