Manage stress to lower cholesterol

Coronary heart disease is a growing problem in India. Over the last 50 years the percentage of urban Indians affected by the condition has gone up from 4 to 11 percent. High blood cholesterol is a leading cause of the condition. And stress, in both men and women, contributes to high cholesterol.

Stress may arise from a number of reasons – work pressure, domestic worries or relationship issues. Whatever the cause, the body responds to it by releasing hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) that cause the heart to beat faster and increase blood supply to the brain. These hormones cause an immediate or short term rise in blood cholesterol. Overtime, this leads to a rise in the level of bad cholesterol (LDL), and fall in the level of good cholesterol (HDL). Excess cholesterol clogging the arteries then becomes a risk for heart disease.

Rising stress also increases the release of sugar in the blood, a function partly controlled by cortisol. The excess sugar is converted to triglycerides (bad cholesterol) and gets deposited around the abdomen as fat, again increasing the risk for of heart disease and other conditions such as diabetes.

How to cope with stress
Learning to manage stress calmly and skillfully not only prevents the negative effects of bad cholesterol but actually increases the levels of good cholesterol in the body. Here are some practical tips to manage your stress and bring down your cholesterol:
Take up exercise: Exercising is essential to reduce stress. Regular exercise release endorphins (hormones that relieve pain), reduces triglyceride and raises good cholesterol in the body. You can get optimum benefits by exercising for at least half an hour, 5 – 6 days a week. Any form of exercise will do, but maintain an intensity and duration that can help you to burn enough calories. Possible options include swimming, running, skipping, jogging, cycling or a combination of aerobics and weight training.
Eat in balance: A healthy and balanced diet is important to help you feel healthy and positive. Eat more natural foods with good fibre, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains like dalia or lapsi, brown rice, oats, pulses and lentils. Avoid red meats (high in saturated fats) like mutton and pork and junk foods (with transfats). Also cut down on alcohol, tobacco and caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee that can negatively influence stress levels. Eat regularly – avoid either skipping meals or binge eating – in a relaxed manner without rushing through meals. Some research shows that eating garlic can help to lower cholesterol.
Pursue a hobby: Indulge in a relaxing hobby like gardening, listening to or playing music, writing, volunteer work or painting. This will help you handle stress better in the long term.
Get enough sleep: Ensure that you sound and adequate sleep at night. Avoid habits such as working or watching TV on the bed that can interfere with sleep and aggravate stress.
Manage stress: Actively take steps to manage stress better. You can practice meditation, spend quality time with family and friends and family or indulge in a pleasurable activity that helps you to unwind. Do not hesitate to seek counseling if you feel that you are unable to cope with stress in your life.

Remember, stress is inevitable. But it is up to you to manage its impact on your life to protect yourself from its adverse effects.

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