Exercise has always been seen as a major mood booster and stress reliever: It boosts endorphins and can help distract you from whatever’s on your mind, which is why it feels good to walk it off when you’re frustrated.
But new research published in the Heart Association journal Circulation suggests that while hitting the gym super hard when you’re pissed might do wonders for your mental health, it could do more physical harm than good. When researchers polled 12,461 heart attack patients, they found that roughly one in seven people had been angry or upset, or reported physical exertion in the hour leading up to the event. But people were three times more likely to have heart attacks after they’d been feeling mad and participated in some sort of strenuous activity during that same 60-minute window.
While the study only associates angry exercise to heart attack risk without proving cause and effect, the connection makes perfect sense. Both physical activity and intense emotion can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, putting greater demands on the circulatory system. If your arteries are already littered with plaque, the combination of exercise and emotion could easily lead you to develop a blood clot that ends up triggering a heart attack, the leading cause of death in the U.S.
But before you pack up your sneakers and cut exercise out of your super-stressful, drama-filled days, know that most people in the study were male and likely older than you, with an average age of 58. They were largely evening exercisers who self-reported the intensity of their exercise and emotional distress, which means they could have misreported either or both. Still, researchers are taking the results Very Seriously and urging people to exercise with caution when they’re angry.
So, while it’s still cool to blow off steam at the gym after work, particularly if it chills you out and helps you unwind, you might not want to beat your fastest pace on the treadmill right after your boss yells at you, lest your unlucky day seriously affect your health.
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