Beware of Exercising When Angry
Let’s face it, there are a lot of things that can cause us to become frustrated or upset on any given day. You might have an argument with your significant other, be unfairly blamed for a problem at work, or feel some road rage coming on as you have to deal with one awful driver after another on the freeway. Whatever the cause of your fury, you may think the best way to handle it is to channel it into a more productive pursuit such as working out. While that might seem to make sense, in truth it might not the best idea. In fact, new research suggests that you could be putting your health in danger if you exercise while your anger is piqued.
The study, which was conducted at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, found that physically exerting yourself when experiencing anger may triple your risk of having a heart attack within an hour.1 The subjects were 12,461 adults in 52 countries around the world who had just suffered their first heart attack. The participants had an average age of 58 and three-quarters of them were men.
Shortly after their heart attack, the volunteers completed a questionnaire that focused on their mindset and activities prior to the event. It covered such topics as whether they had been upset or angry, and whether they had exerted themselves a good deal within an hour before the heart attack occurred and in the same time period the day prior to the heart attack.
Once the responses were analyzed, the results showed that experiencing anger or distress was linked to twice the likelihood of having a heart attack within the hour. Heavy exertion was also associated with a doubling of the risk of heart attack within the hour. And when both anger and exertion occurred together, the chance of suffering a heart attack actually tripled!
Timing appears to be an important element in this risk as well. The likelihood of having a heart attack after a combination of anger and exertion was greatest from 6:00 pm through midnight. What’s more, this finding held up even after the scientists controlled for other influential factors including obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking.
There are some limitations to the study, such as the design that relies on self-reporting. Shortly after experiencing their first heart attack, a subject might be more predisposed to emphasize an earlier emotional reaction and consider it a trigger. In addition, no qualifications were placed on the participants’ definition of exertion. Therefore, what a participant considers heavy exertion could literally range from running a marathon to walking up a single flight of stairs. Nevertheless, we do have to recognize that not everyone is at a similar level of fitness, so what might constitute barely any activity to one person could potentially get the heart rate of another racing.
In any case, despite these flaws, the investigation included a large and diverse international population sample, and the results certainly give us something to think about. The effects of emotional stress are well documented, such as in a 2007 study at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland which showed that anger can alter heart rhythm, lead to ventricular dysfunction, and accelerate atherosclerosis.2 Add to that the burden of strenuous physical activity, and you can see how it might lead to problems, even in those of us who are more physically fit.
That doesn’t mean you should consider curtailing your daily workout; to the contrary, that remains as essential as ever to lower your risk of heart attack and other health issues. Just consider your mental state before starting to exercise. If you’re angry, upset, or aggravated in a major way, take a breather. Try extending your warm-up period or doing stretching or flexibility exercises first. If time is short or you really want to get your cardio in and can’t seem to get your emotions under control, do a very light version of your routine. It is not worth taking a chance on your health to try to maximize your workout on a high stress day.
- 1. Smyth, Andrew; et al. "Physical Activity and Anger or Emotional Upset as Triggers of Acute Myocardial Infarction." Circulation. 10 October 2016. Accessed 19 October 2016. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/134/15/1059.
- 2. Brotman, Daniel J.; et al. "The cardiovascular toll of stress." The Lancet. 22 September 2007. Accessed 20 October 2016. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673607613051/fulltext..