In the movies, traumatic news is enough to trigger a heart attack. On TV shows, a dramatic mother tells her rebellious teen son that he's going to give her a heart attack.

As it turns out, these situations may not be too far from the truth. Research shows a direct link between stress and an unhealthy heart. If your doctor has told you that you have heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, here's what you need to know about stress.

Understanding the Connection

Some research shows that high stress situations increase the likelihood that people will have heart attacks. For example, the number of heart attacks increases after stressful environments created by hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, according to the American Institute of Stress.

Ongoing stress can be just as dangerous, too. A study by the University College of London found that people who had high stress levels at work had a 68 percent greater risk of developing heart disease than people who were not stressed at work.

Researchers at Yale speculate that stress may cause heart problems because it triggers the fight-or-flight response. When that response is triggered, a person's blood pressure is raised and their heartbeat speeds up, making the heart work harder.

Making it even worse, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who were stressed were more likely to smoke and less likely to exercise-two things that make them even more likely to have heart problems.

Reducing the Risk

What can be done? Unfortunately, avoiding stress completely is nearly impossible; however, there are several ways to help keep your heart healthy. Here are some tips.

Don't smoke. As the cardiology journal study found, smoking only makes the problem worse. In addition, it does not relax the body, as many people think. Smoking actually increases your heart rate and your blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Exercise. People who exercised three to five days a week had "younger" hearts, according to a study done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. This means their hearts were working in a faster and more effective way, much like the participants' younger peers.

Eat well. Stay away from fatty foods, like cheeseburgers and pizza. Instead, eat lean meats, like salmon, and vegetables, like broccoli, which has been proven to help fight heart disease.

Take care of your teeth. Several studies have linked healthy teeth and gums with healthy hearts. The reason? The bacteria in the mouths of people who have gum disease may travel through the body, putting them at greater risk of heart problems as well.