FCS News-February 2024

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Reduce Stress for a Healthier Heart

Whether it’s from everyday deadlines, financial struggles, or the COVID-19 pandemic, stress shows up often in life. And your body reacts to it: your heart rate increases, your blood vessels narrow—and over time, these little blows can add up and do damage to your health, particularly your heart. With chronic stress, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and poor sleep. Even other parts of your body – from your lungs to your gut – can take a hit.

But while you can’t always limit the amount of stress in your life, you can work on changing how you respond to it. Just like the automatic “fight or flight” response that kicks in when you’re scared – your muscles tense, heart rate increases, and brain becomes more alert – your body also has a built-in, healthy relaxation response. When that’s triggered, the opposite happens: your breathing and heart rate slow down, and your blood pressure decreases.

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FCS News February 2024 page 1

Luckily, with practice, you can learn to trigger that response. Try these techniques on your own or find a teacher or class to help you get started. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the hang of it quickly. And if one approach doesn’t work for you, try something new. You can learn to de-stress in lots of other ways.

Meditation. One of the most studied approaches for managing stress, this involves developing your ability to stay focused on the present, instead of worrying about the past or future. Find a quiet location with as few distractions as possible. Get comfortable by either sitting, lying or walking. Focus your attention on a specific word or set of words, an object or your breathing. And let distractions, including thoughts, come and go without judgment.

 Progressive muscle relaxation. To feel the effect, first tense your muscles for a few seconds, then relax them. Start by tensing and relaxing your toes, then your calves and on up to your face. Do one muscle group at a time.

Deep breathing. Take in a slow, deep breath, let your stomach or chest expand and then exhale slowly. Repeat a few times. Many people don’t breathe deeply, but it is relaxing and something you can do anytime, anywhere.

Guided imagery. This involves a series of steps that include relaxing and visualizing the details of a calm, peaceful setting, such as a garden. Getting your mind and body to a place of calm doesn’t always mean being still, however. Other healthy ways to manage stress include taking a yoga or tai chi class, talking to a professional counselor, joining a stress management program or an art class, or meeting up with friends for a brisk walk. Being in nature can be very soothing for some people.
Combining de-stressors like these with other healthy habits can go a long way toward strengthening your heart. Eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains, and less sodium, sugar and saturated fats, for example. Move your body more – like through dancing and walking meetings.

Find exercises you actually love and do them regularly. Get enough good, quality sleep. And develop a strong social support system. Then rethink some of the familiar ways you may be coping with stress, such as drinking alcohol frequently, using drugs and other substances, smoking or overeating. They can actually worsen your stress – and your health. Taking care of your heart health is a lifelong journey, but at a time when the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 remains higher in people with poor cardiovascular health, learning new ways to make your heart strong has become even more important. Learn how to stress less for a healthier heart and more about heart health by visiting the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. If you need help finding additional resources to help you cope with stress, talk to a healthcare provider. Seek urgent care if you can’t cope at all or have suicidal thoughts. Resources are also available at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

My heart MY VOICE

Listen to your heart. Raise your voice. Protect your health.

Visit: CDC.gov/MyHeartMy Voice

my heart MY VOICE Visit - CDC.gov/MyHeartMyVoice on background collage of women of various ages and ethnic groups and CDC logo

Heart Smart Basics

What to Know to Keep Yours Healthy

Being smart about your heart means knowing what causes heart disease and what your individual risk factors are. This fact sheet defines common heart-related terms you should know and sample questions to ask your healthcare provider to help keep your heart healthy.

The heart is a strong, muscular organ that pumps blood throughout your body.

Heart rate, also referred to as your pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in one minute. Resting heart rates vary from person to person.

Heart health is the overall well-being of your heart. Heart- healthy living involves understanding your risk factors, making healthy choices, and taking steps to reduce your chances of getting heart disease.

Heart disease is a catchall phrase for a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function.

Cardiovascular disease is the term for all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels.

Often simply referred to as “heart disease,” coronary heart disease is the most common form and occurs when plaque (a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood) builds up in your arteries. The plaque reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood getting to your heart.

Plaque can also lead to blood clots, which block blood flow and are the most common cause of a heart attack.

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, happens when the flow of blood that brings oxygen to a part of your heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked. Your heart can’t get enough oxygen. If blood flow is not restored quickly, the heart muscle will begin to die.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops pumping. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs.

A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. This prevents the brain from getting oxygen and nutrients from blood. Without oxygen and nutrients, brain cells begin to die within minutes. A stroke is also called a transient ischemic attack or cerebrovascular accident.


Heart Smart Fact Sheet

Upcoming Events

Extension at Home – Helping You Improve Your Life!

Virtual Lunch and Learn – 2nd Tuesday of the Month at 12:00 p.m. EDT/EST

Come join us and empower yourself with information that is important to you.

January -June Schedule

  • January 9th: Meal Prep 101
  • February 13th: Happy Heart Habits: Steps to Better Cardio Health
  • March 12th: Cook with Ease: Tips, Tools & Gadgets
  • April 9th: Become A Scam Detective
  • May 14th: Embracing Wellness: Tips For Healthy Aging
  • June 11th: Eat A Rainbow

Learn More/Register online. GO.NCSU.EDU/EXTENSIONATHOME

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Carolina Hunger Initiative (CHI) Nutrition Education

Join the Carolina Hunger Initiative online Tuesdays, 6:30-7:30 p.m., through February 27, for FREE online Nutrition Education classes! Learn More/Register at go.unc.edu/o7FQx

CHI Nutrition Education classes use the FoodSmarts curriculum. Food Smarts helps you build healthy habits and make nutritious food choices on a limited budget.


Nutrition Education flyer

February Happiness Calendar

Action For Happiness⇒ Happier • Kinder •  Together

Feb 2024 Happiness Calendar

Friendly February 2024 Happiness Calendar