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Should You Skip Your Workout If You're Really Upset?

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If you're in the habit of working out regularly, chances are you've hit the gym in a whole range of moods before—happy, exhausted, upset, livid. Most of the time, you'll leave your workout feeling better than when you arrived, thanks to those endorphins you score in the process. But according to a new Circulation study, it may be risky to get your sweat on when you're feeling super angry or upset. (FYI, here's how the combination of exercise and meditation can decrease depression.)

Researchers asked over 12,000 people from 52 countries who had experienced heart attacks about their activities and moods in the 24 hours before they had the attack. Turns out, the odds of having a heart attack were three times greater for those who had exercised and were upset in the 60 minutes leading up to it. Yikes.

"This is what we call the exercise paradox," says Dermot Phelan, M.D., director of the Sports Cardiology Center at Cleveland Clinic. "During exercise, your risk of having a cardiovascular event is increased if you have an underlying condition." These conditions include things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. "The paradox is that if you exercise habitually, your long-term risk is significantly reduced," he says. So if you already have heart problems, working out is super important to improving your health, but it also increases your risk of a heart attack in the actual time you're exercising.

Here's the thing, though: We're talking about people who are already predisposed to heart attacks. The study didn't look at all the people who exercised while angry and were totally fine. If you don't have any of the red flags above, chances are that you shouldn't worry about going for a run to blow off some steam. Plus, the people in the study were an average age of 58 and over 75 percent of them male, so it's unknown whether the same risk exists for younger people and women.

The truth is, exercising has been proven to reduce stress and can even be used effectively in treatment for clinical depression and anxiety, according to numerous studies over the past few decades. Since your stress level is thought to be linked to heart (and overall!) health, anything you can do to reduce it is ideal. For most people, it's likely that the benefits of exercising outweigh the risks, even if you're not in a great mood.

"Some people use exercise successfully as a way to reduce stress, which I still think is a fine idea for those people," says Jason H. Wasfy, M.D., cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "So much illness—including heart attacks—is associated with stress."

If you choose to exercise while upset, Phelan recommends being very aware of any risk factors you may have: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or a family history of cardiovascular disease. "Pay attention to symptoms that can sometimes be precursors to a cardiac event, like chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath that is out of proportion to what you'd expect for the training you're doing, and dizziness," he says. If you're having any of these symptoms, you should back off your exercising ASAP and get evaluated by a cardiologist.

So what's the bottom line here? "If you're a young, healthy person who wants to go for a run, this study is not saying you shouldn't do that," says Phelan. It's probably okay to go to the gym and work out any aggression you're feeling as long as you're generally fit and healthy.

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