A Psychologist Says This Trending Way to Handle Anger May Actually Be Good for Your Heart
For those moments when your temper reaches the brink, a mental health expert—along with a former NCAA Division I team physician—reveal the heart-healthy upsides of letting it out.
Fired up much?
Been finding yourself a little extra quick to anger? Well, maybe it’s no wonder that intense cardio workouts like the Peloton grew so popular at the very moment in history when much of humanity was cooped up, stressed out, and in need of some healthy outlet.
It turns out, the collective need to blow off some steam is a very real thing. An NPR Health Poll conducted by IBM Watson Health in 2019—which was before the emotional upheaval of the pandemic—found 84 percent of people perceived that Americans have been angrier in the past few years compared to a generation ago. Even more recently, a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association suggested people have been feeling more stressed, anxious, and emotional than ever.
Whew—that alone is a lot to take in, and it’s not like anyone’s excited to be part of these continued trends. Especially when you consider the recent research that shows mental health and cardiovascular disorders are growing more and more associated, it seems we need to identify healthy ways to work through big feelings.
To that end, experts suggest turning to an active physical outlet can have a cathartic effect on your physiology by facilitating the literal release of pent-up anger and stress. (For further evidence, read up on the rise in rage rooms.)
How does anger affect your health?
Just a few examples of when anger can be problematic are when you experience it chronically, don’t have a healthy outlet for channeling it, or express it in a way that’s harmful to you, anyone, or anything. Knowing how to manage anger—and knowing when you should vent it—is essential not just for your mental health and the wellness of the people around you, but also for a healthy heart. As psychologist Alfiee Breland-Noble, PhD, tells The Healthy: “There are well-established links between stress and trauma exposure as [being] detrimental to heart health.”
On the other hand, she says, “There are also well-established links between physical activity and positive heart health.” Dr. Alfiee adds that finding a vigorous outlet to blow off steam may lower overall stress, which can serve to improve your heart health.
Feel better already? Read on—and, if this spurs you to get moving, browse the 12 Best Small Treadmills for Your Home or Apartment, According to Fitness Experts. (A few even cost less than $300.)
The best kind of exercise to manage anger is this…
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Christopher Varacallo, DO, CAQSM, FAAFP—a sports medicine physician in DuBois, PA, and former NCAA Division I women’s basketball team physician—calls exercise a “magic bullet” when it comes to managing stress and anger.
But is there a particular type of exercise that’s most effective for managing stress? Here’s this doc’s take: “Aerobic exercise, in particular, can reduce stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also can increase the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators.”
Just about anyone who’s ever ended a rotten Monday with a good, heart-pumping workout would probably agree. Want to add some pep to your step and combat those doldrums? Check out our “I Tried It” on the rebounder trampoline.
Another smart reason exercising to manage emotions can be so beneficial
The other heart-smart side of exercising? Unlike other parts of your day, this window designated for self-care is your time to choose with whom you want to spend it—if anyone at all. “Exercise can provide an escape as a way to enjoy some solitude,” Varacallo says—adding that if you need this space to vent, getting moving can instead “connect you with others and build a social network.” (If you choose to tune out the world and listen to something good, you may just want to keep in mind an audiologist’s clever wireless earbud rule.)
For those who aren’t so into making a fierce commitment to sweat it out on a daily run or in a Crossfit class, Varacallo says how you choose to exercise is less important than just making sure you do it. “Any type of exercise or physical activity will do—the most important thing is to move,” he says. “Go for a walk and connect with nature. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.” These little lifts can inspire you to stay in motion. “Start small,” Dr. Varacallo says, “and soon, it will become part of your life. The type of activity is less important. The consistency and making it part of your routine are key.”
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- Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, PhD, MHSc: Psychologist, Mental Health Correspondent, and founder of the AAKOMA Project.
- IBM Watson Health - NPR Health Poll: "Anger"
- American Psychological Association: "Stress In America 2021: Stress and Decision-Making During the Pandemic"
- Frontiers In Psychology: "Anger as a Basic Emotion and Its Role in Personality Building and Pathological Growth: The Neuroscientific, Developmental and Clinical Perspectives."
- International Handbook of Anger: "Fuel in the Fire: How Anger Impacts Judgment and Decision-Making."
- British Heart Foundation; Heart Matters: "Does getting angry put you at risk of a heart attack?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Rage Rooms: Do They Offer Anger Relief or Reinforce Bad Behavior?"