You had a bad day and you head home fuming. Your first instinct is to lace up your shoes and go for a cathartic run. While running can be the perfect way to slough off your emotional distress, you may want to think twice about going hard for the sake of your heart if you have heart disease.
Cardiologists have long known that extreme emotional stress and strenuous physical activity can each increase the chance of having a heart attack in people with existing cardiac disease. But a study conducted worldwide and published in the journal Circulation recently showed that when you combine the two together, your risk increases even more.
The study looked at almost 12,500 men and women in over 50 countries who had recently had their first heart attack. Patients were asked to complete a questionnaire that asked about how they felt during the hour before their cardiac symptoms began compared to how they felt the day before. Researchers also relied on health histories and standard medical exams.
What they found was that people had about twice the risk of heart attack when they had experienced either emotional distress or had engaged in strenuous physical activity in the hour leading up to their heart attack. But when they experienced both together, their risk tripled. This increased risk was not associated with other heart attack risk factors.
While this study indicates a correlation between emotional state, physical exertion and the risk of heart attack, the results should be taken with a grain of salt. That’s because it’s hard to define exactly what triggers a heart attack in any particular person. Additionally, how a person defines emotional distress or heavy exertion is subjective.
What we do know is this. Both intense emotions and physical exertion can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to rise. While in many cases there is no cause for concern when this happens, since your blood pressure and heart rate rise and fall throughout the day for many different reasons, there is a chance that the changes occurring within your blood vessels when this happens can trigger a heart attack. But the only way this can potentially happen is if you already have heart disease.
Despite the results of this study, don’t discount running as a good way to channel your emotions or calm yourself down the next time you’re looking for an outlet for your anger. While it’s not advisable to go all out on a run if you’re angry – running a lot harder, faster or longer than what you would typically do on any other day – running while angry is generally considered a safe way to clear your head and get your emotions in check. Just stick with your usual running routine, especially if you have known risk factors for heart disease.