Worrying And Being Middle-Aged May Eventually Put Men At A Higher Risk For Heart Disease

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Worrying is a part of life. However, this may also affect the health in more ways than one. A brand new research saw how feelings of anxiety and worry could be detrimental, but these two may actually put middle-aged men at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, especially in the latter parts of their lives.

A study had been published on January 24. It came out in the Journal of the American Heart Association. In it, the researchers discovered that middle-aged men who reported more feelings of worry or feeling overwhelmed may be at a greater biological risk, especially when it comes to the development of cardiometabolic disease as they get older.

“While the participants were primarily white men, our findings indicate higher levels of anxiousness or worry among men are linked to biological processes that may give rise to heart disease and metabolic conditions, and these associations may be present much earlier in life than is commonly appreciated — potentially during childhood or young adulthood,” shared Lewina Lee, PhD in an AHA release. She is alsothe lead author of the study, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, and an investigator and clinical psychologist at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, both in Boston.


Worrying is Normal and Sometimes Helpful, So Long as It Doesn’t Interfere With Daily Functioning 

In order for the researchers to look deeper into the relationship between anxiety and heart-disease risk factors over time, they gathered and used data from 1,571 men who took part in the Normative Aging Study. The said study is a longitudinal study of the aging processes that take place in men. The participants in the study were 97 percent white, and they were on average, 53 years of age.

The study started in 1975. During this time, none of the participants suffered from cancer or heart disease. They also had been asked to undergo physical exams and blood tests every three to five years until they passed away or until they chose to drop out of the study. Each one had completed a personality inventory. This measured their neuroticism on a scale of 0 to 9 and a worry assessment tool that had 20 items under it.

It must be noted that neuroticism and worry are two very different things. The researchers made sure these belonged to its own category. Neuroticism is a personality trait that is characterized by the tendency to translate situations as threatening, stressful, or overwhelming. This definition was explained Dr. Lee. She said, “Individuals with high levels of neuroticism are prone to experience negative emotions — such as fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger — more intensely and more frequently.”

“Worry refers to our attempts at problem-solving around an issue whose future outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative,” Dr. Lee added. Worrying isn’t always detrimental. In fact, it can be beneficial when this brings about constructive solutions to the problem on hand. “However, worry can also be unhealthy, especially when it becomes uncontrollable and interferes with our day-to-day functioning,” Dr. Lee explained.

In the 40-year follow-up period, the researchers observed and studied the increase in the levels of seven biological risk factors for cardiometabolic disease. Included in the list are systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides, body-mass index, glucose, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, the latter referring to inflammatory marker.

Men who had higher levels of anxiety at very start of the research had 10 to 13 percent greater chances of reaching high biological risk for cardiometabolic disease at that time. According to Dr. Lee, “They also had consistently higher biological risk for cardiometabolic disease than less-anxious men from midlife into old age. These findings support an association between anxiety and greater risk for developing heart disease and diabetes in men.”


Men Who Tend Worry Often are Likely to Have Unhealthy Habits in Their Practice

The researchers observed the participants and the men who reported to worrying more often also tended to be heavier smoker and drinkers. They were also more likely to live sedentary lives, wherein exercise was not part of their normal routine. Also, the link between worry and higher biological risk for cardiometabolic disease remained even after these researchers were able to control those factors. They also controlled socioeconomic factors such as income and education.

However, many things still remain unclear. They don’t know up to what extent the results of their analysis are generalizable to the rest of the world because the participants of the study were all male and nearly all white. This fact was noted Lee. The findings are also limited because all the participants were middle-aged when the study started, the doctor also said.

“It would be important for future studies to evaluate if these associations exist among women, people from diverse racial and ethnic groups, and in more socioeconomically varying samples, and to consider how anxiety may relate to the development of cardiometabolic risk in much younger individuals than those in our study,” Dr. Lee added.


Findings Stress On the Important Role of Mental Health in Man’s Overall Health

“These findings reiterate the importance of screening for mental health difficulties, such as worries and anxiety, in men as early as their thirties and forties,” the doctor said. While these health experts may not screen or have talks about reducing risk for heart disease and diabetes until older ages or the first signs of disease, the results of the study somewhat suggest that worries and anxiety are linked to the processes that may possibly lead to heart disease even before the given symptoms appear. She said, “Therefore, screening for mental health difficulties may be one way to prevent the development of cardiometabolic disease and promote heart health.”

People should also be aware of the fact that maintaining mental well-being may be one of the methods that people can employ in order to preserve good cardiometabolic health. “Oftentimes, people do not pay attention to heart health until after they receive a diagnosis,” Dr. Lee said. She also added, “Our findings suggest that it is important to pay attention to indicators of cardiometabolic health, such as one’s weight and blood pressure, at much younger ages, and doing so may have long-term benefits in preventing the development of heart disease and diabetes.”