The American Heart Association reports that middle-aged men who worry a
lot have a higher chance of developing risk factors that can lead to heart
disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes as they age, according to research
that tracked men for 40 years.
The study, published in January 2022 in the Journal of the American Heart
Association, found men who often felt anxious or overwhelmed developed
heart disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and high
cholesterol at a faster rate than their less-worried peers. The biggest
worriers had a 10%-13% greater chance of eventually accumulating six or
more risk factors, compounding the risks for heart disease and stroke
associated with normal aging.
"Having six or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that
an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed cardiometabolic
disease," lead study author Lewina Lee, PhD, said in a news release
on the research. Lee is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston
University School of Medicine. She also is an investigator and clinical
psychologist at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Researchers analyzed data
collected by the Veteran’s Administration Boston Outpatient Clinic
from 1,561 men between 1975 and 2015 whose average age at the start of
the study was 53.
Dealing with Stressful Situations
The men were assessed for neuroticism – the tendency to interpret
situations as stressful, threatening or overwhelming – and worry
levels through two mail-in surveys. They also had physical exams, including
blood tests, every three to five years until they died or the study period
ended. Seven cardiometabolic risk factors were measured, including blood
pressure; total cholesterol; triglycerides; obesity; fasting blood sugar;
and an inflammation marker called erythrocyte sedimentation rate.
Overall, the men developed one cardiometabolic risk factor per decade from
ages 33 to 65, with an average of 3.8 risk factors by age 65. People with
high levels of neuroticism had more risk factors than their less-stressed
peers at all ages and were 13% more likely to develop six or more cardiometabolic
risk factors as they aged. Those who said they worried a lot were 10%
more likely to accumulate six or more cardiometabolic risk factors.
Experiencing Intense Emotions
"Individuals with high levels of neuroticism are prone to experience
negative emotions – such as fear, anxiety, sadness and anger –
more intensely and more frequently," said Dr. Lee said. "Worry
refers to our attempts at problem-solving around an issue whose future
outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative. Worry can be
adaptive, for example, when it leads us to constructive solutions. However,
worry can also be unhealthy, especially when it becomes uncontrollable
and interferes with our day-to-day functioning."
To help remedy this situation, Lee suggested having routine health checkups
and being proactive in managing cardiometabolic disease risk levels (such
as taking medications for high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy
weight), they may be able to decrease their likelihood of developing cardiometabolic disease.
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