Barry A. Franklin, PhD, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, has identified five emotional and physical stressors that can temporarily increase the risk of a cardiovascular event such as strokes and heart attacks.  While the risks are highest in people with heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, physical and emotional stress can also affect healthy people.

     Physical stresses which can trigger strokes and heart attacks include overexertion such as shoveling snow and strenuous winter sports such as cross-country skiing. A combination of a diseased heart, cold temperatures and unaccustomed physical activity can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 50 to 100 times over those who don't exert themselves.  For people who don't normally exercise, shoveling snow or skiing can cause increases in blood pressure and heart rate at the same time that breathing cold air is constricting the arteries. In addition, people skiing tend to be at higher altitudes with a lower pressure of oxygen in the air making increased demands in the heart.

    Another physical stressor which can trigger a cardiovascular event is having sex. This is particularly true in extra-marital sex which can cause a greater level of arousal than normal  and cause the heart rate to increase by as much as 30 beats per minute which can put extra demand on the heart.  One report indicated that around 80% of heart attack deaths which took place during or after sex took place in hotel rooms where the sex partner was not their spouse. Researchers do not believe sex is risky for people who are physically active and having sex with a regular partner or spouse.

   Emotional stressors can be just as dangerous in increasing the risk for a heart attack or stroke.  Bad news like learning of the death of a loved one or getting bad health news immediately elevates your risk for a heart attack.  THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE reported that the risk of having a heart attack is highest on the day bad news is received.  The risk continues to remain high for at least a month afterwards.

    Another emotional trigger which could activate a cardiovascular event is watching sports.  This is important for those who are really invested and passionate about their team.  When true fans get really excited, the heart rate can increase by as much as 100 beats per minute which could rigger arrthythmias or clots.

    Extreme anger can also raise your risk for a heart attack.  Just being aggravated does not raise your risk but extreme anger can trigger an increase in blood clots, heartbeat irregularities and constriction of arteries.

    There are things you can do for each of these risks. If you are normally quiet sedentary, don't shovel snow.  Buy a snow blower or hire someone to shovel your snow.  If you are a sedentary, amateur skiier, start increasing your activity level well before your ski trip.  And dress for the cold weather including a scarf to cover your nose and mouth. exercise regularly for safer sex and choose a regular partner or spouse.  Become less invested in sporting events and take any heart medication prescriptions regularly. If you have received bad news, spend time with loved ones and other people who care. Consider therapy for extreme anger and get medical advice from your doctor. All of these risks are greatest in people who don't exercise, are overweight and who smoke.

    Dr, Franklin is coauthor with Joseph C. Piscatella, of PREVENT, HALT AND REVERSE HEART DISEASE.  Learn more about how you can lower your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Remember hypnotherapy can be a valuable tool to make positive changes to decrease your risk of stroke and heart attack.