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Steady Heart Rate Ups Risk of Chronic Stress

First Posted: Oct 07, 2014 08:08 AM EDT

Researchers have found that steady heartbeat can be used as a valuable diagnostic tool to predict risk of chronic stress.

It is well documented that chronic stress ups the risk of poor mental as well as physical health, however it does not affect everyone in the same way. A few cope well with stress but for others chronic stress is extremely harmful.  In a new finding, researchers at theConcordia University have discovered a way to pick those who are susceptible to stress.

The study led by psychology professor Jean Philippe Gouin, focused on76 university students during periods of lower stress right at the start of the term as well as higher stress during exams. They noticed that although the students underwent the same challenges, only a few of them developed significant distress.

They recorded the participants' heart rate variability while they relaxed and while they were remembering things that worried them the most. They also monitored the participants' moods during time of low stress that happened during early in the semester and high stress just before exams.

They noticed that the participants with less variable heartbeat when they began worrying were more vulnerable to higher stress later on when they faced their finals.

Gouin, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Chronic Stress and Health, explains: "At rest, a more variable heartbeat is a good thing. It shows that your parasympathetic nervous system is hard at work. That's the system that's responsible for the 'rest-and-digest' state of being - the opposite of 'fight-or-flight.' The rest-and-digest phase puts you in a calm state that allows you to conserve and replenish your energy."

The finding was documented in the journal Stress.

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