Running Angry

Not everyone should furiously lace up and hit the treadmill at speed 8.0 when pissed off.  According to the results of a recent study, the combination of intense emotion and heavy physical exertion increases the odds of triggering a heart attack. 

Basically, emotional upheaval raises your blood pressure and heart rate, so when you add an intense workout to the mix, it puts a lot of pressure on your blood vessels. If you have plaque inside those blood vessels, the increase in pressure can cause them to rupture. Plaque is caused by a number of factors, including smoking, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high LDL (“bad cholesterol”).  

Now, there is one major caveat to this study that is worth noting – the researchers did not define “strenuous”. The lead author of the study says that “heavy exertion” depends on the individual – “heavy” being much more exertion than that person engaged in the day before, and much longer and intense exertion than normal.  So if you normally jog 3 miles at an 11 minute per mile pace twice a week, don’t sprint out the door after that fight with your man and tear off down the street pushing an 8-minute mile for an hour.  Likewise, if you find yourself panting, or dizzy, or just working too damn hard while exercising, slow down or take a short break.  Heart rate monitors and wrist-worn fitness trackers (like the Apple Watch and FitBit) are good tools to help you stay tuned to your cardiovascular response while running.  Finally, if you are really concerned, ask your doctor about scheduling a stress test.

On a personal note, I recently noticed that my heart rate was much higher than normal when on long runs.  I went to the doctor to ask for a stress test - she found that my heart was fine but that my blood pressure was too high.  So even though there isn’t a direct correlation between heart rate and hypertension, paying attention to my heart got me to the doctor.

Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I am having a moment, or I’ve had to do a complete head spin because someone just said I-can’t-believe-what, going out for a run is the perfect soother.  But what I try to do first is take a deep breath or two, then maybe walk or stretch a little, and start off jogging a little slower than normal.  I’ve usually calmed down by the time I hit my stride.  Even though I might hit the pavement a little harder, I ease into the workout instead of shocking my system. That being said, running a little faster than normal is definitely better for my health than marinating in anger.