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Calm Down Before Exercising — Anger And Stress Can Lead To Heart Attacks

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Feeling angry or stressed while working out can raise a person’s risk for heart attacks three times over in just one hour, a large-scale international study has found.

Regular exercise is an excellent way to stay healthy, lower stress levels and prevent heart disease, and the biggest problem usually is that people don’t get enough. But researchers at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario have found that extremes while exercising can do more harm than good.

There have been previous studies that looked at anger and over-exertion as factors in heart attacks, but most concentrated in one country, or on small control groups. This new study involved 12,461 participants from 52 countries, 75% of whom were men. The average age was 58 years, and all of them had suffered a first heart attack, the Washington Post reports.

The participants answered a questionnaire on how they were feeling, whether they were angry or had exerted themselves an hour before they experienced the heart attack, or at the same time the day before. This way, the researchers could compare risk at different times and how these potential triggers affected the attacks.

According to the results, being angry or upset doubled the risk of a heart attack within an hour, the same with heavy physical exertion. Feeling both at the same time more than tripled the risk.

The most dangerous time was between 6:00 p.m. and midnight, independent of other factors like smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure.

There were some caveats, however. Patients reported their own levels of stress or anger, and people who had recently suffered a heart attack may be more likely to think they experienced one of these triggers rather than not. In addition, heavy exertion is confined to the patient’s perspective – for some, it may be as simple as walking a distance, while for others, it may be mountain climbing.

While the study is observational, it provides the best information possible on the subject, as it’s not possible to tell people to feel angry or stressed then exercise, then see if any of them get heart attacks.

Dr. Andrew Smyth, the lead author on the study, says that their findings are backed by science. Emotional stress and exertion can cause blood pressure and heart rates to rise, changing the blood flow in vessels and reducing how much blood gets to the heart. In an artery already clogged, this could block blood flow, leading to a heart attack. He says, “From a practical perspective, there will be times when exposure to such extremes is unavoidable.”

He says that while they recommend exercise to stay healthy, people should take care not to go to extremes. “We continue to advise regular physical activity for all, including those who use exercise to relieve stress.”

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, with the support of other governments in participating countries, along with grants from several pharmaceutical companies. It was published in the journal Circulation.

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