Grant: Can Saints stress impact heart health?

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, November 28, 2018

With our beloved New Orleans Saints on a winning streak, we all have visions of the NFL playoffs in our heads.

As each week passes with another Saints victory, the stakes are getting higher — and so are our stress levels. We know a close game can get our hearts pounding, but can it also be dangerous?

A stressful Saints game can unfortunately be bad for your heart, but that’s true for all forms of stress.

Last year, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology published a paper, which reported heart rate data from Canadians watching hockey games. It found, on average, that the participants watching the games at home had an average heart rate increase of 75 percent, while participants watching the games at the arena had an average heart rate increase of 110 percent.

The outcome of the game or allegiance to the team were not really factors; it was the frequency and intensity of high stakes moments (how stressful the game was). The heart rate increases were equivalent to the increases seen in moderate exercise, and in some cases, high intensity exercise!

Complications of emotional stress can temporarily increase markers of inflammation in the bloodstream and can cause constriction of blood vessels. This not only impacts the heart, but also the entire body.

A condition called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, an abrupt weakening of the heart muscle related to severe emotional or physical stress, could occur.

This affliction mimics a heart attack in many ways, including on an echocardiogram and EKG (ultrasound of the heart and cardiac tracing of the heart) and in blood work. This type of weakening usually recovers with time and appropriate medical care.

It’s important to distinguish between normal indicators of stress and more serious symptoms. Severe chest pain, headache, dizziness/lightheadedness and palpitations are all major red flags in high stress situations.

When your heart rate increases, so does your blood pressure. If you have preexisting heart and/or vascular disease, a stressful event could be a trigger for something more serious. If any of these symptoms occur, especially if they persist, you should seek immediate medical attention.

So, it’s not all bad news—there are ways to turn your football fandom into a heart healthy activity! Watching a Saints game is a great opportunity to get together and spend quality time with your family and friends.

Viewing parties (and trips to the Superdome) are usually filled with good company — and even better food. Try out some heart healthy recipes, especially those that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts and limits red meat and too much salt.

Get outside! Walk to the Superdome from your car if you’re lucky enough to have tickets. If you are watching at home, start a routine where you play fun halftime games or go on a post-game stroll to recap the action (and digest all that food).

Watching sports can absolutely increase your overall happiness and quality of life, despite coming with some risk. Do what makes you happy, but if you have any concerns, please consult with your physician. Geaux Saints!

Dr. Nakash Grant is a cardiologist practicing at Ochsner Health Center – River Parishes in LaPlace. Grant earned his medical degree from Loma Linda University in California. He completed an internal medicine residency and cardiovascular medicine fellowship at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio. Grant joined Ochsner Health System in 2014. To make an appointment, please call 985-652-3500.