Researchers at McMaster University published the results of their study on exercise and anger recently, and here’s a report what they found:
Being very upset or angry more than doubles the risk of a heart attack within an hour, while heavy physical exertion does the same, a worldwide study suggested. But combining the two – such as using extreme exercise as a way of calming down – increases the risk even further.
So much for using intense exercise to blow off steam when you’re ready to blow a gasket. It kind of makes sense, since anger gets the blood flowing and the heart pumping, and so does heavy exercise. So combine the two and bam! The heart is working pretty hard.
This is not to say that physical activity is not recommended. It is. It still has all sorts of health benefits, the researchers say. But if you’re angry, they suggest not engaging in extreme exertion.
According to the article, experts say this work points to a “crucial connection” between mind and body.
A separate article discusses a different kind of mind-body connection, that which can be achieved through regular yoga practice. With the mainstreaming of yoga, there are all sorts of claims about its mental benefits.
In “How Yoga Turns You Superhuman or Just Less Freaked Out about Life,” Drake Baer says:
While there’s a need for larger scale, more thoroughly designed research, studies indicate that a yoga practice helps in treating depression and anxiety (in multiple meta-analyses), managing stress, and improving the well-being of cancer survivors. Research indicates that the practice helps young musicians find flow states, women over 55 experience transcendence of the ordinary, and ashram residents reach “a radical shift in consciousness of the type most people experience only when they are using psychoactive drugs.” Therein lies the exquisite difficulty of studying it: Asana, or the series of poses that you probably think of when you hear “yoga,” is a physical exercise, yes, but also a psychological and perceptual one, like its sibling, meditation. Almost all the researchers I talked to warned me that no one completely knows “how yoga works”: The expansive fruits of long-term practice are intensely subjective, and it’s rather difficult to design a study that gains access to another person’s phenomenology.
He talks about anecdotal evidence of yoga enabling superhuman feats. In a study in the 70s:
Swami Rama reportedly controlled the flow of blood into his hand. To [Timothy] McCall [the researcher conducting the study and author of Yoga as Medicine], Rama was able to do this by affecting the smooth muscles lining his arteries. This usually lies outside of conscious control, but the yogi had developed the ability to better access his autonomic nervous system, the domain of the heartbeat, digestion, and breathing.
The hypothesis is that regular yoga practice puts people in touch with their bodies in a unique way that has tremendous physical, emotional, and mental benefits. You know when the yoga instructor has you holding Warrior 2 longer than is comfortable? Well, “if you’re breathing slowly and deeply while all of this is going on, McCall says, you’re teaching yourself to not overreact to stress. It’s a way of ‘maintaining modulation of freakout mode,’ he says, a training in emotional self-regulation.”
I like the yin and yang of these two very different studies that link mind and body through physical activity. On the one hand, we’re told that extreme exercise while angry exacerbates our risk of heart attack because it amplifies the physical symptoms of anger in a way that puts stress on our system. On the other hand, though not thoroughly understood, yoga practiced on a consistent basis can at the very least help us modulate our emotions.
Maybe we can even use yoga to minimize those anger-reactions that put so much stress on our bodies.
You can read more about the anger/vigorous exercise risk study here.
You can read more about these studies of the mind-body connection in yoga here.
Are you an angry exerciser? Does this research make you question that approach to blowing off steam? Have you ever experienced the sorts of mental benefits from yoga that the article talks about?