Middle-aged worriers have a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes as they get older, new research suggests.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that increased levels of anxiety or worry among men are linked to biological processes that can be bad for the heart and increase the chance of ill health.
Experts analysed data for 1,561 men from the Normative Aging Study, which has been tracking aging in men in the US since 1961. The men were mostly white and, on average, were aged 53 in 1975.
At the start of the research, the men were assessed for neuroticism and worry and did not have heart disease or cancer at that time.
They then underwent physical examinations and blood tests every three to five years until they either died or dropped out of the study.
Overall, seven risk factors for cardiometabolic disease were measured: systolic (top number) blood pressure; diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure; total cholesterol; triglycerides (blood fats); obesity (assessed by body mass index); fasting blood sugar levels; and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a marker of inflammation.
When looking at risks for disease, each man was given a score depending on how many cardiometabolic risk factors they had and their severity.
Dr Lewina Lee, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, said: “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.
“Having six or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed cardiometabolic disease.”
The researchers found that, between the ages 33 to 65, the average number of cardiometabolic high-risk factors increased by about one per decade.
People with higher levels of neuroticism had a greater number of high-risk factors, while worriers were 10% more likely to have six or more cardiometabolic disease risk factors.
Dr Lee said: “We found that cardiometabolic disease risk increased as men aged, from their 30s into their 80s, irrespective of anxiety levels, while men who had higher levels of anxiety and worry consistently had a higher likelihood of developing cardiometabolic disease over time than those with lower levels of anxiety or worry.”
The experts said it was not clear from the data if any of the men had been diagnosed with anxiety, and it was not clear if medications could lower the risk.
But, according to Dr Lee, men can help reduce their risks by having routine health check-ups, taking any medications for high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight.
Further studies should examine the impact of worry and anxiety on women’s health, she added.
It comes as a separate study on 4,840 US adults found that thousands of deaths could be prevented every year if people increased their exercise.
Researchers estimated that around 110,000 deaths per year could be prevented if US adults aged 40 to 85 increased activity by just 10 minutes a day.