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October 15, 2001


Don't Let the Threat of Terrorism Literally Break Your Heart: Taking Care of Yourself in an Uncertain World

Does the ongoing war on terrorism, including the possible use of biological and chemical attacks on the U.S., have you so stressed out you are forgoing your exercise routine or turning to junk food for comfort? If the answer is "yes", you need to consider the possible health consequences, according to Emory Heart Center cardiologists.

"This is an important time for people to pay attention to their health and to stay physically strong," says Douglas Morris, M.D., who heads the Emory Heart Center. "In fact, in an uncertain world, those who are in good cardiovascular shape may be able to handle whatever circumstances they find themselves in far better than someone who is out of shape."

Another advantage to concentrating on heart healthy activities, such as getting at least twenty minutes of aerobic exercise three times or more a week: exercise has the proven ability to lower stress levels . "Exercise helps us deal with both physical and psychological stressors by blunting effects of fight-or-flight chemicals produced in our body during times of grief and worry," notes Laurence Sperling, M.D., director of the Emory preventive cardiology program. If you are feeling anxious, depressed and "heart broken" over the terrorist attacks on America, your heart may literally suffer if you don't take action to get help." Unrelieved stress, over time, is a known risk factor of cardiovascular disease," Dr. Sperling points out.

It is also important to remember that stress can exacerbate pre-existing physical problems, including heart disease, Dr. Sperling says. "Physical symptoms related to stress can include chest pain, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. While these may or may not be actual symptoms of heart problems, they should be checked out by your physician," he adds. "No one should chalk up chest tightness and/or pain to the ongoing stress connected to the terrorism attack — they should contact their doctor immediately."

Using junk food and high calorie, high fat "comfort food" to self soothe during these anxious times is another potentially heart endangering response to worry over terrorism. Instead, both Dr. Sperling and Dr. Morris urge paying attention to a heart- healthy lifestyle with regular rest, exercise and a low fat, balanced diet.

The Emory HeartWise Risk Reduction program, located at the Emory Clinic at 1525 Clifton Road, offers health management programs for anyone who has experienced a heart attack or stroke, or who wants to lower their risk of heart disease. The program includes a personalized risk reduction action plan incorporating monitored exercise classes, nutrition counseling, stress reduction and more.


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