You may have heard that being stressed can increase your risk of getting heart disease. Conversely, being physically active considerably decreases your risk. Still, lack of time and a stressful everyday life is repeatedly ranked among the leading reasons why people are not physically active according to the recommendations by leading health authorities.
Now, new findings from Swedish and Swiss researchers add to the long list of reasons why you still should try to fit some exercise into a busy schedule. In a study recently published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise the researchers aimed to examine whether cardiorespiratory fitness moderates the relationship between perceived stress and traditional heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure, overweight, blood lipids and blood sugar levels.
In the study, they included 100 men and 100 women that reported their perceived level of stress in a questionnaire and also had their cardiorespiratory fitness levels measured using a bicycle ergometer test. Not unexpectedly, they found that both high perceived stress and low fitness were associated with higher total heart disease risk. Interestingly, however, among participants who reported high stress levels, there were particularly large differences between high-, medium and low-fit people. For instance, blood pressure, that is expected to increase when you are stressed, was markedly lower among those who had high fitness levels as compared to those who had a low fitness level. In those reporting low stress, however, far smaller differences across fitness categories were found. Hence, this study adds support to a previous hypothesis that high levels of fitness act as a buffer against the negative effects of stress on heart health.
Bjarne Martens Nes, researcher with CERG