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Exercise, Anger & Heart Disease

When was the last time you worked out while angry? For most people, exercise improves your health and can provide relief from anger and other emotional stressors…but what if you’re already at high risk for cardiovascular disease?

According to a study published in the journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), experiencing anger/emotional upset or heavy physical exertion may double heart attack risk. Being angry or emotionally upset while engaging in heavy physical exertion appears to triple heart attack risk.

What is the connection between anger and heart disease?

Anger and emotional distress can increase both your blood pressure and your heart rate, which can constrict blood vessels and decrease blood flow to the heart. If a person has atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), the blood vessels may already be narrowed by plaque.

Combining anger or emotional distress with atherosclerosis could cause plaque to rupture from the lining of the blood vessel and become lodged in a narrowed artery, which could completely block the flow of blood to the heart muscle. The result? You could wind up having a heart attack.

Ways to Prevent Anger

There are several different ways to prevent and/or decompress from being angry. These include:

  • Deep Breathing
  • Meditation
  • Visual Imagery
  • Progressive Relaxation
  • Yoga

woman doing yoga

Shouldn’t exercising help people manage emotions, such as anger?

Regular exercise certainly has many health benefits, such as decreasing:

  • Body fat
  • Abdominal fat
  • Osteoporosis
  • Triglycerides
  • Risk for heart disease

Regular exercise also helps to increase/improve:

  • Bone density
  • Lean body mass
  • HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Blood sugar

While it’s certainly important to engage in regular, physical activity/exercise, you will want to speak to your healthcare provider regarding whether or not it is wise to do so when emotionally upset.

Exercise as a Means of Managing Emotions

It is important for patients to know that anger is often not a primary emotion. Along with anger can come: hurt, disappointment, sadness, fear, and other emotions. The more a person can try to ‘count to ten’ and take some time to understand the emotions associated with anger, the more effective he/she will be at processing those emotions.

Often, talking with a good friend who is simply willing to be a good listener can allow a person to gain insight into the varied emotions that go with anger. For some, journaling can provide the space necessary to process their feelings. For others, mindfulness, or mediation can be useful.

Patients should be encouraged to try to understand their anger, rather than feel guilty for being angry. Let them know that they have choices in how to respond. For the majority of patients (not just cardiac), anger is a challenging emotion to feel comfortable expressing, and in some cases, exercise can certainly help relieve some of that stress.

About Beth Drossman

Beth is the Program Coordinator for Cardiac Rehab services at WakeMed. Beth has a B.S. in Biology & Chemistry and a M.S. in Exercise Physiology. She is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist.

About Stan Yancey

Stan Yancey is a Clinical Pastoral Education Specialist at WakeMed. Stan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) as well as a certified member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.