Exercise is good for your heart and for every other organ in your body. A workout gets your heart pumping and your muscles contracting, and it can even lower the risk of chronic health problems, like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Workouts have mental health benefits too. Studies show that exercise boosts mood by stimulating the release of endorphins and by altering brain chemicals that impact mood. If you’re stressed out, a workout can help calm your nerves and give you a more positive outlook if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. But if you’re feeling angry, cool off and chill out a bit before launching into a vigorous workout. Here’s why anger and vigorous workouts don’t mix.
Is Exercising While You’re Angry Bad for Your Heart?
Have you ever been so angry that you could feel your heart racing in your chest and the blood pulsing through your veins? Anger stimulates your sympathetic, or fight-or-flight, nervous system, the one that speeds up your heart rate and raises your blood pressure to prepare you to fight an opponent or escape a predator. Exercise, too, activates the sympathetic nervous system, as it constricts and dilates blood vessels in a way that delivers more blood and oxygen to the tissues that need it and less to organs, like your digestive system that don’t. During exercise, your adrenal glands also release hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine that cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. If you’re angry when you begin your workout, you may get a double dose of “fight or flight” hormones and that’s not good for the heart or your health. These hormones place added stress on your heart and cause a rise in blood pressure.
In support of this, a study published in the journal Circulation found that intense exercise when you’re angry increases the odds of a heart attack by 3-fold. For the study, researchers looked at almost 12,500 cases of heart attack from 262 medical centers in different parts of the world. They questioned the participants about their activities and emotions an hour before their heart event. They found that 14.4% felt angry before their heart attack, while 13.6% said they had worked out an hour before the time their heart attack. Those who felt angry and did an intense workout beforehand were three times more likely to have a cardiac event such as a heart attack. Anger, without exercise, doubled the risk.
Anger as a Trigger for Heart Attack
The study suggests that intense emotions like anger or rage, alone, can boost the odds of a heart attack, but the combination of anger and strenuous exercise elevates the risk even more. One caveat is the study depended upon people remembering what they did an hour before their heart attack and how they felt at the time. It wasn’t a randomized, controlled study, the type that shows cause and effect and is the most high-quality study available. Some participants may have had trouble recalling how they felt and what they were doing. However, it suggests that we shouldn’t launch into a vigorous workout when our hearts are already thumping and our blood boiling from anger.
As further evidence that anger can trigger a heart attack, another study looked at the emotions of 300 heart attack victims within 2 hours of their heart attack. They asked them to rate on a scale how calm or angry they felt. What was surprising is how much extreme anger raised the risk. In this study, those who reported feeling intense anger before their heart attack had an 8.5 times greater risk of experiencing a heart attack. The risk lingered after the workout was over too. Two hours after extreme anger, the risk was as high as 9.5 times above baseline.
Exercise Still Lowers Heart Attack Risk
These findings shouldn’t discourage anyone from working out. Regular exercise lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and can boost your mood so you’re less likely to fly off the handle or feel angry in the first place. For most people, it has a calming effect. For example, numerous studies show that exercise releases excess steam and helps people cope with frustrations. Moving your body is a form of emotional release and a way to deal with stress.
Plus, research shows aerobic exercise boosts the release of endorphins from the brain and nervous system. These chemicals have pain-relieving properties and create a sense of well-being, so much so that runners sometimes get “addicted” to the endorphin release they experience when they run. For some, the day isn’t complete without a run! Therefore, exercise is a good strategy for managing anger and stress. However, when you’re feeling rage or anger, it might not be the best time to launch into a high-intensity workout. You already have fight-or-flight hormones pulsing through your veins and arteries and a vigorous workout will only elevate them more. Instead, your best bet is to do gentle stretching, yoga, or some other form of low-intensity exercise until you cool down. It’s especially important to be cautious if you have high blood pressure or underlying heart disease. Consuming caffeine before such a workout could magnify the risk even more.
The Bottom Line
Exercise is a good stress management strategy but watch your timing! Don’t channel your anger into a vigorous workout. Take it easy until you calm down. Sometimes, the best way to tackle anger is to take a walk outdoors, stretch, or do some relaxing yoga poses. However, workouts that get your heart rate up and force you to breathe hard can be excellent longer-term for managing stress, reducing anxiety and depression, and for improving your mood and outlook. Take advantage of all the physical and mental health benefits that a workout offers!
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