Reduce Stress for Your Heart Health

Dr. Chockalingam plays tennis for stress relief
Anand Chockalingam, MD (pictured above), recommends incorporating physical activity into your daily life and smiling 20 times an hour to reduce stress.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and stress is one of the culprits that contributes to unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and inactivity. Anand Chockalingam, MD, a cardiologist at MU Health Care, shares simple ways to reduce stress through “heartful” living.


Remember to smile 20 times every hour — or roughly once every three minutes — to experience the stress-releasing benefits. It’s the simplest thing you can do for your health and one of the most profound.

“Smiling allows us to connect with our true inner nature so we perform better,” Chockalingam said. “By taking life easier, your health will be much better off.”


Incorporate a fitness routine into your life. It’s important to vary the exercises to reap the benefits. For example, mix in strength training, high-intensity interval training, and yoga. Include 150 minutes of physical activity in your week.

“Have fun, and do what you like to do,” Chockalingam said. “If you can exercise without feeling like you’re exercising, that’s even better.”

Manage your time

“Focus on your priorities, and start there,” Chockalingam said.

He recommends listing the following in a daily diary:

  • Three things you have to do
  • Three things you enjoy doing
  • Three things you dislike doing

Focus on filling your life with the things that bring you joy and, if possible, outsource the things that bring you stress.

Mindful eating

Chockalingam believes a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. It leads to a decrease in cognitive control because of a lack of focus. Don’t let a wandering mind lead to mindless eating when you aren’t hungry. Look at each meal as a celebration to enjoy.


“Teens with a pessimistic attitude toward life have a higher risk for heart attacks all through life,” Chockalingam said.

Turn off the negativity. Chockalingam said people can choose to be thankful by focusing on what they have. It’s hard to feel stressed when you have a grateful heart.


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