Study: Exercising When Angry May Be Bad for Your Heart

Together they were associated with a tripled risk of having a heart attack within an hour


Exercise and anger don’t match, a new international study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation says. There is a lot of scientific proof suggesting that working out on regular basis helps with preventing anxiety disorders and heart problems, but this may not be true if you’re already upset.

Physical exertion and anger or emotional distress are triggers associated with first acute myocardial infarction (AMI) in all regions of the world, in men and women, and in all age groups, with no significant effect modifiers, according to the researchers.

“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,” Barry Jacobs, a psychologist at the Crozer-Keystone Health System in suburban Philadelphia and an American Heart Association volunteer, says.

Almost 12,500 people from 52 countries who recently had heart attacks for the first time were surveyed by McMaster University. The authors of the study asked the participants about their physical and emotional states just before their episodes, as well as an hour before, and during the same hour the day before.

The results were that 13.6 percent, or 1,650 of them were engaged in physical activity and 14.4 percent (1,752 people) were angry or emotionally upset an hour before symptom onset. Exercise and anger were then associated with a tripled risk of having a heart attack within an hour.

There was no effect modification by geographical region, prior cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular risk factor burden, cardiovascular prevention medications, or time of day or day of onset of AMI. The risk was greatest between 6 p.m. and midnight, and was independent of other factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or obesity.

Some people may not be supposed by the results of the study. Science has proven time and again that anger and exercise, separately, can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. It’s only logical that if experienced at the same time, the body will be more vulnerable to plaque buildup in the arteries. “This is particularly important in blood vessels already narrowed by plaque, which could block the flow of blood leading to a heart attack,” Dr. Andrew Smyth, study lead author, says.

One downside of the research is that the authors did not specify how they define “heavy physical exertion” and “emotional upset.” Both of these vary with every individual. People with pre-existing conditions are obviously more at risk.

“[Those] who are at risk for a heart attack would do best to avoid extreme emotional situations,” Jacobs said. “One way many cope with the emotional ups and downs of a health condition is through peer support, talking with others who are facing similar challenges can be very helpful in better managing your own emotions.”

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