Many people turn to exercise to blow off some steam, but working up a sweat while angry could greatly increase a person’s risk of a heart attack, a new study finds.
The study, published by the Heart Association’s journal, “Circulation,” on Oct 10, was completed across 52 countries and included 12,461 individuals suffering a first heart attack. The average age was 58 years old and three-fourths of the participants were men.
“Previous studies have explored these heart attack triggers; however, they had fewer participants or were completed in one country, and data are limited from many parts of the world,” said Dr. Andrew Smyth, lead author and a researcher of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute in Ontario, Canada. “This is the first study to represent so many regions of the world, including the majority of the world’s major ethnic groups.”
One limitation of the study included self-reporting of the patients. Participants were asked questions about whether they were angry while engaged in heavy physical exertion. Information about age, ethnicity, diet, physical activity, tobacco use, education, employment and other factors was also collected.
“This is a large enough sample size that we can put stock in the findings,” said Barry Jacobs, a psychologist at the Crozer-Keystone Health System in suburban Philadelphia and an American Heart Association volunteer. Jacobs was not involved with the study.
The odds of a heart attack were both increased when patients were participating in physical activity and when they were angry or emotionally upset. Exercising while angry or upset tripled the chance for a heart attack.
“This study is further evidence of the connection between mind and body. When you’re angry, that’s not the time to go out and chop a stack of wood,” Jacobs said “We all need to find ways of modifying our emotional reactions and to avoid extreme anger.”
The study stated that the findings were consistent with other previous studies.
“Physical exertion and emotions (including anger and emotional upset) are reported to increase heart rate and blood pressure,” the study’s results stated. “Therefore, it is not surprising that we identified an additive effect of both physical exertion and anger or emotional upset in the case period.”
Other limitations included the study’s use of an observational design, meaning causation could not be established. The limitations can be outweighed by the possibility of triggering a heart attack while participating in physical activity, especially if one is emotionally upset, according to Smyth.
“Both can raise blood pressure and heart rate, changing the flow of blood through blood vessels and reducing blood supply to the heart,” he said. “This is particularly important in blood vessels already narrowed by plaque, which could block the flow of blood leading to a heart attack.”
The study is not meant to discourage physical activity, but to warn against the risks involved when exercising while under emotional duress.
“Regular physical activity has many health benefits, including the prevention of heart disease, so we want that to continue,” Smyth said. “However, we would recommend that a person who is angry or upset who wants to exercise to blow off steam not go beyond their normal routine to extremes of activity.”