Can Being Scared Be Good for Your Health?

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In the face of a scary event, real or fake, a person's “fight-or-flight” response can take over, which can result in a myriad of positive changes to your body. So, while you are visiting haunted houses this Halloween or watching that really scary movie, you may be helping out your heart.

“When you experience fear, your body prepares itself for prompt action by triggering your "fight-or-flight" response,” said Dr. Michael Castine, Cardiologist at Ochsner Medical Center – West Bank. “This response begins in a region of your brain called the hypothalamus, which sounds the alarm and triggers increased production of adrenaline in your adrenal glands. That's the rush you feel when scared.”

According to Dr. Castine, adrenaline in your bloodstream achieves its effects on your heart rate by stimulating the adrenergic receptors on cells throughout your heart tissue. The overall result of this process is an increase in your heart rate, as well as an increase in the force of each individual heart contraction. Adrenaline also triggers the blood vessels to contract to re-direct blood toward major muscle groups, including the heart and lungs.

Castine adds, “being scared” may actually benefit your health, “While you exercise, your heart beats faster to pump more blood (which contains important oxygen, fluids and nutrients) to the working muscles.”

“The effects are similar when you’re scared. Scary movies usually run for about two hours. In those two hours your heart rate can rise and fall back to resting rate. In addition to strengthening your heart muscle, this can train your heart to pump more blood with every stroke -- increasing your cardiac output up to eight times its resting capacity. Ultimately, your heart becomes more efficient at delivering oxygen and draining metabolic waste products away.”

However, if you have prior health problems, such as heart disease, Dr. Castine says, haunted houses may not be for you.

“An adrenaline rush can have detrimental effects on health. In people with heart disease, it can cause a weakening of the heart muscle, heart failure or a heart attack. So steer clear of haunted houses if you have any of these diagnoses.”

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