If you’re eating well and exercising regularly, you’re doing two fantastic things for your heart and brain.
But there’s a third factor that too often gets short shrift: your mental health.
In a recent study that followed more than 200,000 women and men for four years, those who reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other forms of emotional distress were at much greater risk of stroke and heart attack.
Men were more prone to heart attacks, women to strokes — and the likelihood of both rose in step with the severity of the distress.
While being emotionally distressed can certainly lead to habits that harm your heart, like drinking too much, smoking, or eating junk food, the results held true even after accounting for lifestyle choices.
More research is needed to determine how mental distress may affect your cardiovascular system, but the upshot of the study is clear: tending to your mental health is essential for good heart and brain artery health, as well as good overall health.
To that end, keep stress in check with a regular practice like yoga or meditation, get treatment if you have depression or anxiety, and prioritize your relationships with close friends and supportive family members.
If you need a cheat sheet, just remember: What’s good for your metaphorical heart (strong relationships, time spent doing what you love, and so on) is likely good for your literal heart, too!
Source: Psychological Distress and Risk of Myocardial Infarction and Stroke in the 45 and Up Study