We all feel stressed out now and then, but for people with heart problems, stress can be deadly. Researchers found that providing training in stress management was just as effective as exercise in reducing the risk of more heart problems.
Eighty-year-old Joseph Mazzetta is having his heart function checked, because seven years ago he had angina -- oxygen wasn't getting to his heart. "I started getting shortness of breath and a little tightness in my chest," he said.
Today he feels much better. He was one of 134 heart patients who took part in a Duke University Medical Center study. Researchers divided the patients into three groups. One got exercise training, which was Joseph's group. Another received stress management training, and the third group got usual medical care. The training programs lasted four months, to see if exercise or training reduced stress.
The findings appear in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. The author of the study is Dr. James Blumenthal. "Those patients who underwent the stress management or the exercise training experienced significant improvements in levels of depression and overall psychological distress, and not only did they experience those psychological benefits, but they experienced physical benefits as well."
When patients experienced mental stress, exercise and stress management training were equally effective at reducing ischemia, which is when narrowed blood vessels prevent blood from flowing to the heart. But people who got stress management training saw added benefits improved blood vessel health and the way the body handles surges in blood pressure.
Dr. Blumenthal says, "We taught them what stress was, how to recognize it, and then we taught them strategies as to how to reduce their stress levels." He adds that more physicians should recommend exercise or stress management training for their heart patients. "I think they feel that medication may be sufficient. I think data from this study would indicate that exercise and stress management really add to the benefits of medical management of patients."
Joseph Mazzetta takes three heart medications a day, and continues the exercise he started during the study. "I do it also because I want to live another day (laughs), it's as simple as that."
Mr. Mazzetta didn't receive stress management training, but he says regular workouts have helped reduce his stress.