Halloween Health: Can being scared help your heart health?

Published 9:40 am Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Think back to the last time you visited a haunted house. Did your heart feel like it was racing afterwards?

What about the last time you watched a really scary movie with all the lights out?

With Halloween just around the corner, William Bennett, MD, PhD a cardiologist at St. Charles Parish Hospital breaks down the science behind being scared and how it impacts your heart health:

What happens when you’re scared?

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. Bennett. “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 what causes the rush you feel when scared.”

What effects does this have on your body?

According to Dr. Bennett, 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.

Could being scared actually benefit your health?

Dr. Bennett 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. Bennett 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.”