Making stress reduction a priority was a key change for this ‘Biggest Loser’ trainer.
The first thing most people turn their attention to when trying to be healthier is almost always diet, followed closely by exercise. Think about it: New Year’s resolutions typically involve giving up sweets, eating more veggies, or joining a gym.
That’s all great, but there might be an even more important component, according to health and fitness expert Bob Harper, who survived an unexpected heart attack in February 2017. (Here’s the surprising heart attack symptoms Bob Harper ignored.) His key to post-heart attack health? Stress management.
Harper has teamed up with the awareness and advocacy cause Survivors Have Heart (supported by AstraZeneca), which helps educate other heart attack survivors on the importance of staying committed to the treatment prescribed by their doctor. Harper believes managing stress may make these treatments more effective.
“If you are managing your stress, you’re going to be more likely to make better food choices,” says Harper. “You’re going to find time to work out in your day. Your sleep is going to be sound.”
Stress can wreak havoc on health from two angles. First, it can directly affect heart health by consistently spiking cortisol and adrenaline levels, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. That’s usually temporary and no big deal, but chronic stress may put too much stress on heart health over time.
Stress affects heart health indirectly, too. “[If] you don’t manage your stress, everything else will fall apart like a house of cards,” says Harper. Stress can also affect your management of diabetes and other conditions related to your cardiovascular health.
Stress can affect our choices in more subtle ways. Let’s be real: When you’ve worked two hours later than usual to hit a deadline, are you more or less likely to hit up the drive-through on your way home or treat yourself to an extra scoop of Rocky Road after dinner? The link between stress and eating habits is no secret. Under stress, people tend to eat a greater volume of food and choose “comfort foods” that are high in calories, sugar, and fat, according to a 2013 study from the Yale University School of Medicine.
To manage his stress (and help prevent future cardiac events or complications), Harper now uses transcendental meditation twice a day and yoga. (Here’s a 3-minute guided meditation anyone can do and a 10-minute yoga routine to soothe stress at home.) In fact, the word “yoga” in Sanskrit translates to “union” because yoga is designed to unite your mind, body, and breath, which can help you focus on the present instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past. Learn more benefits of yoga here.
Another component to Harper’s stress management: his support system. “I had to rely on the support I got from my doctors [and] the support I got from my friends and family,” says Harper. “I also have two dogs that are really there for me emotionally.” (Learn all the ways pets can benefit your health here.)
“I know how precious this life is,” says Harper. “I’m not going to stress on the big things; I’m not going to stress on the small things. I would tell a heart attack survivor, ‘Whatever it is that can make you just stop for a minute and breathe and relax, I’m all for it.’”
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I've always believed in ideals for
a healthy body and a healthy mind.
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And it's always been diet, exercise,
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sleep, and then stress.
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Stress management is super
important because, think about it.
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If you are managing your stress,
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you're gonna be more likely
to make better food choices.
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You're going to find time
to work out in your day.
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Your sleep is going to be sound.
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You don't manage your stress,
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everything else will fall
apart like a house of cards.
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I had to learn a whole new way of living.
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I had to learn to be able to stop and
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And I really had to rely on my meditation.
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I had to rely on the support that I
got from my doctors, support that
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I got from my friends and family, to get
me through the toughest time of my life.
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Some of the things that I do every
single day, transcendental meditation,
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I like to do it twice a day.
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I also do yoga and also I have two dogs
that are really there for me, emotionally.
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I find the joy in my life.
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I find the joy in that day and
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I've been given a second chance of life,
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I know that sounds kind of dramatic, but
it's what I really do believe in now.
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I know how precious this life is.
00:01:33,386 --> 00:01:36,319
I'm not going to stress on the big things.
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I'm not gonna stress on the small things.
00:01:38,472 --> 00:01:43,452
I would tell any heart attack survivor,
whatever it is that can make you
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just stop for a minute and
breathe and relax, I'm all for it.
00:01:47,774 --> 00:01:51,657
How does stress affect you. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2016. (Accessed on March 6, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/StressManagement/HowDoesStressAffectYou/How-Does-Stress-Affect-You_UCM_307985_Article.jsp#.Wp6dNJM-fVo.)
Managing stress to control high blood pressure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2018. (Accessed on March 6, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/MakeChangesThatMatter/Managing-Stress-to-Control-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301883_Article.jsp#.Wp6dTZM-fVo.)
Sinha R. Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Oct;1141:105-30.
Why yoga for stress relief? Wilmington, DE: KidsHealth. (Accessed on March 6, 2018 at https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/yoga-stress.html.)
Yao YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013 Sep;38(3):255-67.