How are Heart Disease and Mental Health Related?

We all know the importance of heart health and how to promote a strong cardiovascular system: eat right, exercise, and quit smoking. It might surprise you to know, however, that our mental state can impact cardiac function. With COVID-19 affecting our day-to-day lives, mental health is becoming more and more crucial to our overall well-being. Interested in learning how mental health can affect your heart? Our Northwest Primary Care physicians explain the dynamics between heart disease and depression.

How Does Depression Affect the Heart?

Medical professionals are spending more time looking at the relationship between heart disease and depression. Interestingly, some recent studies reveal that mental health and heart health is a “two-way street.” People suffering from depression have a higher risk of cardiac complications, and those dealing with heart disease experience higher rates of depression. 

Here are just a few of the heart-brain correlations

  • Stress, caused by depression and anxiety, can increase cortisol levels, leading to heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and heart damage.
  • People who abuse tobacco are more likely to experience depression than non-smokers. Smoking is proven to have detrimental effects on heart health.  
  • Nearly 40% of heart disease patients exhibit signs of clinical depressive disorders.

With cardiovascular disease being a leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. and depression rates spiking due to COVID-19, it’s crucial to get mental and physical wellness in check. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, heart disease, or both, it’s essential to speak with your NWPC physician about solutions. However, you can also employ a few techniques on your own to help prevent and reduce risk. 

4 Tips for Combating Depression and Heart Disease

While evidence suggests a link between heart disease and mental health, luckily, there are many solutions to help you manage both. Check out these four healthy lifestyle practices and take charge of your health.


1. Eat a Balanced Diet

What we eat plays a huge factor in our overall well-being. Most of us know that healthy eating habits like whole grains and lean protein help reduce heart disease. Surprisingly, these same types of foods can also lessen depression and anxiety. Our healthcare professionals recommend these double-duty foods to help manage the mind and body:

2. Cut Down on Alcohol

Enjoying a drink or two isn’t always a bad thing, but for people suffering from depression, it might be best to ditch cocktail time. Alcohol is a depressant and, as a result, can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. Excessive drinking also interferes with blood sugar, increases blood pressure, and can contribute to cardiomyopathy, a severe thickening of the heart muscle. If you are concerned about your alcohol intake, schedule an appointment with one of our physicians to discuss treatment options.

3. Practice Stress Management

With COVID-19 disrupting our daily lives, our stress levels can rise. Prolonged exposure to stress can cause increased mental and physical health problems as a result. The effects of stress can lead to headaches, chest pain, sleep problems, anxiety, and more. All these effects can have a negative impact on heart health and mental well-being. However, learning some stress management techniques and self-care tips can help.

  • Get more sleep: 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep has proven health and stress reduction benefits.
  • Try yoga: focus on stretches that incorporate deep breathing and gentle movements.
  • Practice Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, anxiety, and more have been shown to decrease with this specific form of body awareness and meditation.
  • Explore nature: Hiking, biking, and even a simple walk around the block all have calming effects.

4. Commit to an Exercise Routine

Routine exercise benefits both your body and mind. It helps improve cardiovascular health, resulting in lowered blood pressure and cholesterol. Staying active also boosts serotonin levels, contributing to enhanced mood. Even mild exercise has a profound effect on anxiety and depression. One study suggests that a quick daily walk can reduce major depression risk factors by 26%. While not everyone has the time to devote hours to exercise, our physicians at Northwest Primary Care recommend starting small. Start with 10 minutes, then increase the duration. As with any exercise regimen, always consult our team of practitioners before beginning. 

Make Your Appointment With Northwest Primary Care Today

At NWPC, we understand the effects of depression and heart disease. Whether you are searching for self-help resources or need to talk about coping strategies, we are here to help. Our experienced practitioners accept patients at all our Portland locations. Contact us to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment today!

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