Can Stress Kill You? The Copenhagen City Heart Study




Written by:
Dr. Naresh Rao

Can stress kill you? We’ve all heard that it could, and now, for men under the age of 55, we have powerful research to prove it. One of the largest studies of its kind in recent times was the Copenhagen City Heart Study. Over 12,000 participants were assessed to see if stress itself is a cause of mortality and what specific cause of mortality is associated with it.

Participants were asked two simple questions: How stressed do you feel, and how often do you feel stressed? For the purposes of the study, stress was defines as the sensation of tension, nervousness, impatience, anxiety, or sleeplessness. The participants were then followed for an average of 22 years, while researchers looked for patterns.

The findings of the Copehagen City Heart Study showed that young and middle-aged men (younger than 55 years of age) who scored highest on the stress scale had the highest death rates. The top killers were cardiovascular disease and suicide. It is purported that the cardiovascular disease was correlated to the increased endothelial layer dysfunction; in other words, the innermost lining of the arteries, where plaque builds up, was not working well. The higher suicides rates were thought to be due to the higher incidence of depression. These findings suggest that the answer may be yes when asking the question: “can stress can kill you?” Interestingly, women and older men did not show any correlation. Further studies are needed to help explain why stress did not increase the mortality risk for these groups.

In the broader sense, stress is defined as the sum of biological reactions to any adverse stimulus – be it physical, mental, emotional, internal or external – that tend to disturb the “body’s natural balance.” The importance of maintaining this balance is vital to one’s health and longevity. Here are a few coping strategies to use when you’re feeling stressed:

  1. Align your personal values and your life-mission with the choices you make in life
  2. Rigorous honesty with one’s self
  3. Clear understanding of and commitment to a purpose beyond one’s self
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Adequate sleep, at least 7-8 hours per night
  6. Maintain a healthy diet
  7. Understand your boundaries and maintain them
  8. Laugh! (It really is one of the best medicines)
  9. Focus on abdominal breathing
  10. Maintain healthy relationships

About the Author

Dr. Naresh Rao


Naresh C. Rao DO is Director of Wellness Services at the Lifewellness Institute. He is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and holds a Certificate of Added Qualifications in Sports Medicine. Dr. Rao lectures frequently to businesses on a variety of wellness topics. Dr. Naresh Rao

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