Blood boiling? Simmer down before exercising

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A new study shows exercising while angry increases a person's risk for having a heart attack.

A new study shows exercising while angry increases a person’s risk for having a heart attack.

New study shows being angry could boost heart attack risk

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve overall health. But according to a new study by the American Heart Association, if you’re angry or upset, you may want to cool down before breaking a sweat.

The international study examined the relationship between intense physical exertion or extreme emotion, and having heart attacks. More than 12,000 people from 52 countries participated.

  • About 14 percent reported either physical exertion, being angry, or being upset as a trigger to having a heart attack.
  • Being angry or emotionally upset while doing heavy physical activity doubled the heart attack risk.
  • Being angry and upset while doing heavy physical activity tripled heart attack risks.

Peter Monteleone, MD, is a cardiologist with the Ascension Seton Heart Institute, part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system. Monteleone said hormonal and chemical physical reactions often come with the fight-or-flight response that people have when they deal with physical stress.

“These fight-or-flight signals make people run faster and focus more intensely. But these same signals may also have negative effects, like making the delicate coronary artery lining more likely to rupture, exposing the artery lining to higher pressures that could cause more sudden damage, or even making the blood more likely to clot.

Who is most at risk for having a heart attack?

The study does not address who is at greatest risk for a heart attack if they exercise when physically or emotionally stressed, Monteleone said. However, people with poorly treated diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or known cardiovascular disease are at greater risk of heart attacks, including when they physically overexert themselves, he said.

Other people that may be at risk are those who get very little exercise and then are suddenly exposed to the extremes of the fight-or-flight response, he said.

“For example, a former high school runner who 20 years later goes for a first run and chooses a marathon to start, or a person who moves to the northeast and shovels snow for the first time ever when they otherwise get very little exercise.”

How can I reduce the risk of having a heart attack?

Oftentimes we worry more about other people’s stress more than our own. Monteleone said neglecting your own stress can affect your life negatively. This contributes to your risk of having a heart attack.

“Neglecting your stress will hurt you over the years by increasing your risk of future cardiovascular events. But it can also hurt you emergently in an extreme situation where it may increase your risk of a sudden heart attack, as reported in this study.”

Exercising regularly and having a heart-healthy diet can decrease your chances of a heart attack. When your body becomes accustomed to exercising regularly, it can adapt easier to extreme physical stress, Monteleone said.

“Every time you think about the dangers of poor health, think about the benefits of good health, and think of how you can start achieving good health today,” Monteleone said.

Alternatives to strenuous physical activity:

  • Try low-impact physical activity like walking or gardening
  • Explore mind- body activities like yoga or meditation
  • Practice relaxation techniques such a breathing and counting

Talk to your doctor about what methods are right for you. And always ask your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.