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Stress Reduction Crucial for Heart Health

By ALAN OLSON

Staff Writer

Hours of constant stress and worry can turn into days, which can lead to a high-stress lifestyle for many people. This can have serious impact on the body, leading to chronic health problems or worse.

While stress is part of an appropriate response to many situations, constant exposure to stress without relief may become a chronic problem. Dr. Gregory Suero, a cardiologist at Wheeling Hospital, said many Ohio Valley patients suffer from high blood pressure and several other serious health issues that are exacerbated by stress and the indirect effects of stressful living.

“When people are stressed, the body releases substances that lead to problems like high blood pressure and higher heart rate,” Suero said. “That puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes. The other thing with stress are the behavioral aspects. When people are under stress, they’ll smoke, they become sedentary, they don’t go out or exercise. If you’re not doing anything for your high blood pressure, that leads down to cardiovascular events.”

In the local area, Suero said every day is packed with patients who require treatments for their cardiovascular health, many of which are linked to a stressful lifestyle.

“The bread and butter for us, almost every day, are patients with high blood pressure. We see these people, and we’re always trying to bring blood pressure down,” he said.

Management of stress is a matter that requires active input from people in many instances. Several programs around the Ohio Valley exist to allow people to begin recognizing their stressors and treating them, including several meditative and physical fitness classes, such as several yoga and tai chi courses offered at various locations.

Steve Perdok, a tai chi instructor, sees many people come through his door and said that even removed from obvious stressors, the body can still remain on alert, further contributing to chronic stress problems.

“We concentrate on breathing and slow, rhythmic movement to create meditation in motion,” Perdok said of his classes.

“We’re in a fast-paced society, from our coffee in the morning to being on our cell phones we’re constantly on the go, and corporations want more, more, more, more. (Tai chi) helps you to slow down, focus on yourself and your body and mind.”

“Our world today does not promote relaxation,” he added. “Even if you relax, you sit down and watch TV, you still have stimuli. This (tai chi) helps us focus and turn way down. The movements are controlled by breathing, and the slower your breathing, the slower your movements are.”

To counteract stress, Perdok advises relaxing activities that focus on actively emptying the mind. Tai chi, he said, specifically helps people who find stillness to be distracting. Furthermore, he said, the exercises can be done at home to maintain a relaxed state outside of the classroom environment.

“Some people can’t just sit and meditate, because they’ve got so much going on in their mind. This helps you to focus on the movements and eliminate some of the stressors and thoughts and slow yourself down. In time, it enables you to enter ‘wu chi,’ which is ‘mind of no mind.’ You’re aware, but you’re just in the moment.”

“This helps create a habit — something done daily to get in tune with yourself and get away from the world for a little bit, and the benefits come with standard practice. … The real beauty of this comes from doing (tai chi) outside, by yourself, and you’re one with yourself.”

Perdok said he instructs around 40 students across the region, teaching about 12 students per class. The smaller class sizes, he said, promote better individual learning.

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