Exercise has long been considered an ideal method for dealing with anger. By channeling rage into physical activity, you turn negative emotion into improved physical health.
Everything from the Mayo Clinic to self-help books to lifehacking advice extols the anger-reducing virtues of physical exertion. Using exercise to quell anger is conventional wisdom at this point, and there’s substantial hard evidence to back it.
Numerous academic studies have shown the anger management benefits of exercise. Aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease anger among overweight children. In Finland, people who worked out at least two times per week were found to experience less anger, depression and distrust than their more sedentary countrymen. As little as 10 minutes of exercise can have a positive effect on mood, and running has helped short-tempered college students better manage their emotions.
But the conventional wisdom could also kill you. A new study out of McMaster University in Canada shows that exercising vigorously while angry can trigger a heart attack. Both anger and intense physical activity have separately been linked to cardiac problems; combined, they can triple your chances of a heart attack, the study found.
So where’s the line between reaping the emotional benefits of exercise and cutting off blood flow to your heart?
It depends on your anger and fitness levels, according to Andrew Smyth, a clinician at McMaster and the study’s lead author. “A person who runs four miles multiple times per week is unlikely to be at significant risk [of a heart attack] if they run four miles, for example” Smyth tells MEL. “But the risk may be higher if that individual goes out to run 10 miles when angry.”
That is, you should avoid the temptation to funnel your rage into tackling your first half-marathon.
Effective alternatives to exercise include breathing exercises and meditation, Smyth says. But as a general rule, you’ll be fine if you practice moderation, both emotionally and physically.
You can also consider the advice of the the American Psychological Association: When you’re angry, don’t engage in strenuous exercise of any kind—do yoga instead.