Emotional exercising can trigger heart attacks, study says

Blowing off steam on a run could blow a gasket.

A cathartic sweat session when you’re angry or upset could spike your risk of cardiac arrest, according to a recent study published in the journal Circulation.

Almost 12,500 men and women from 52 countries who recently suffered their first heart attacks were surveyed by McMaster University researchers who asked them about their physical and emotional states just before their incidents, as well as an hour before, and during the same hour the day before.

Turns out the subjects doubled their risk of cardiac arrest when they engaged in heavy physical activity compared to the day before. They suffered about the same risk when they were feeling upset. But combining extra physical exertion with a heightened emotional state tripled the cardiac arrest risk over the day before, regardless of their age, fitness, weight and smoking history, especially between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Anger and exertion can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, so it stands to reason that this could trigger a heart attack if you have a heart condition, like plaque buildup in your arteries.

But don’t swear off the gym entirely just yet. Studies also show that being active lowers stress and boosts cardiovascular health. This latest research suggests some times are better for breaking a sweat than others.

“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 and an American Heart Association volunteer, told the Associated Press.

And keep in mind that the study didn’t clarify what “heavy physical exertion” and “emotional upset” actually mean. A 2-mile run may be as intense for you as a marathon for someone else. Same goes for emotions — how do you compare being upset about a bad day at work to stressing over a terminally ill parent? We feel things differently.

Plus, a healthy person’s heart won’t stop if she’s spitting mad in her spin class. This warning is intended more for people with underlying heart conditions.

“We continue to advise regular physical activity for all, including those who use exercise to relieve stress,” said study leader, Dr. Andrew Smyth of McMaster University. But he warned people should avoid extreme states of anger and emotional upset, and not go beyond their usual exercise routine at such times.

Bottom line: Ease up on your workout if you’re feeling especially worked up.

|NY TIMES

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