Strong emotion, high exertion found to increase risk of first-time heart attack

Women-Heart-AttackHas a colleague really gotten under your skin? Has your boss popped off at you in a way that crosses your line? Have your spouse or kids run up big bills, banged up a car, or gotten in trouble in a way that just infuriates you? Go ahead, pull on the running shoes, and exercise a bit to blow off the steam. But be careful if you’re so angry that you push yourself beyond your normal limits.

That’s because Canadian researchers, working with global data, have determined that anger or emotional upset just before vigorous exercise more than doubled the risk of people suffering a first heart attack. If individuals performed heavy physical activity, they more than tripled their heart attack risk.

The results were based on information on 12,500 men and women from 52 nations who were examined and interviewed at 262 health centers. Researchers were trying to understand their emotions and activity before their first heart attacks, they reported in the peer-reviewed and well-respected medical journal Circulation.

Investigators have linked cardiac episodes to strong emotions, including happiness, but the studies have been small and focused in small areas, most in industrialized Western countries. This study included data from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as well.

To be sure, the study participants, most of whom were men and had an average age of 58, already suffered cardiac disease, though they hadn’t yet had a heart attack. They self-reported their emotional states with prompts of generalized questions if they were engaged in “heavy physical exertion,” or had just experienced “emotional upset.”

The researchers did not delve into physiological triggers of respondents’ heart attacks, though big emotions and heavy exercise can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, as well as releasing powerful stress-related hormones like adrenaline.

Experts also noted that they were neither discouraging exercise, in general, nor the conventional and widespread approach now of people reducing stress with physical activity.

But intense combinations of strong feelings and unusually rigorous exertion may not be wise for many people. When very upset and exercising, “stay within your normal limits,” Dr. Andrew Smyth, a clinician and researcher with the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Canada and the lead author of the study, told the New York Times. “Don’t suddenly go twice as far or twice as fast as you usually would.”

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