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A summary of 37 studies shows that stress management and lifestyle-change programs can help reduce the number of deaths from heart disease by 34 percent. And now that there's scientific evidence to show the benefits of stress management, it's time to put the research into practice, APA member David Abrams, PhD, testified May 16 to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Studies show that stress can be a factor in triggering heart disease, and the severity can be increased when combined with other risk factors, such as a poor diet and smoking, said Abrams, director of the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at Brown Medical School. Abrams emphasized the value of stress management as well as early detection and improved screening.

"If we are going to prevent heart disease in the first place, we must target people throughout their entire lifespan starting at a young age," Abrams told the subcommittee. "This means giving everyone in the country messages and help with changing their behavior."

For example, increasing the availability of interactive computer programs at home can allow doctors to track the disease's progression in patients, he said, and can also motivate patients to change their lifestyles as they observe their own progress.

Stress-management interventions for cardiac patients might help improve patients' quality of life and promote lifestyle changes and better adherence to medical treatment, testified Peter Kaufmann, PhD, leader of the Behavior Medicine Scientific Research Group of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Also testifying at the hearing, Karen Matthews, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, noted that many people shy away from adopting healthier lifestyles because of the difficulty and stress involved in changing behavior.

"We need a better understanding of the role of stress in accelerating disease risk early in life and how stress-management interventions might impact early risk trajectories," she said. "Stress management, combined with promoting healthy lifestyles in adolescence and young adulthood, may have long-term economic and social advantages."

--M. DITTMANN