Patients in the research study had a known date and time of a heart attack, had survived for at least 24 hours after the event, completed a standardized interview and provided information on factors that may have triggered the event.
The patients’ activities four days before the onset of symptoms were also recorded in interview-based diaries.
For many of us, we know how stressful being stuck in traffic can be. And if you’re now working from home because of the pandemic, science suggests skipping the commute may bode well for your heart.
In a research study of nearly 700 participants, scientists discovered patients who suffered heart attacks were three times more likely to have been in traffic shortly before symptoms began. They hypothesize the combination of stress and air pollution may increase the risk of heart attack, or myocardial infarction.
“We know stress is a natural reaction and can actually help you cope with short-term situations,” said Dr. Suhail Allaqaband, an interventional cardiologist based at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis. “Your body releases hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond. But if your stress response is prolonged, it can take a toll on your health, including your heart.”
Researchers found a link between exposure to traffic and the onset of myocardial infarction within one hour afterward. The time the subjects spent in cars, on public transportation or on motorcycles or bicycles was consistently linked with an increase in the risk of heart attack.
“Frequent or chronic stress can make your heart work too hard for too long. In responding to stress, you breathe faster, your heart pumps faster and your blood vessels constrict to quickly deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles so you can act, ” said Dr. Allaqaband. “But this also raises your blood pressure. And when your blood pressure rises, so can your risk for having a heart attack.”
While some may not have the option to work from home and skip the commute, there are several simple things you can do to help reduce stress.
“Exercising, eating healthier, reducing caffeine, listening to soothing music and deep breathing can lower stress and benefit your heart,” Dr. Allaqaband said. “Spending time with friends and family, laughing and even petting your dog or cat are also known to relieve anxiety.”