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Job loss can be bad news for heart health

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By Healthday
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, 6:28 p.m.
 

As anyone who's lost a job can attest, stress and worry often quickly follow. But the health of your heart after unemployment can also take a tumble.

Job loss can cause immediate heart issues, and the stress and bad habits that frequently accompany unemployment can build up over time, causing cardiovascular damage, health experts say.

In some people, especially those who might not be expecting the job loss or those with significant financial obligations, getting fired may cause a condition called broken heart syndrome. “In a very stressful situation, you can actually get a severe release of adrenaline and sympathetic nerve discharges that cause the heart to beat irregularly,” said Dr. John Higgins, a sports cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

These changes can cause a heart attack in some people, though Higgins said that most people who have significant stress reactions return to normal over time without having a heart attack.

Long-term changes that happen after a job loss — such as financial stress, family problems, loss of daily routine and sometimes higher-risk behaviors, such as increased alcohol use or a poor diet — can cause heart problems to develop, Higgins said.

One recent study, published Nov. 19 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the risk for heart attack increased significantly for middle-aged to elderly people when they were unemployed. The researchers found that the risks increased incrementally with each job loss.

Losing a job, however, doesn't mean automatic heart problems, especially if you take steps to protect your heart's health — a message that health experts want to extol during February, American Heart Month.

Meditation, one of Chinnaiyan's favorite ways to reduce stress, “can help in multiple ways,” she said. Yoga can also be quite helpful in decreasing stress-related hormones, she added.

Higgins noted that it's crucial to keep up a regular exercise routine. He recommends exercising 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. But, if someone has significant clinical depression, exercise won't be enough, he noted, adding that it's then important to see a mental health professional.

He also recommends body muscle relaxation exercises. “Lie down and go through each muscle group in your body, progressively relaxing the muscles as you go,” Higgins said.

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