A simple experiment – a huge fact

Otto Bathhurst experiments to find out whether the link between stress and heart attack is self-induced?

A simple experiment – a huge fact

Breaking news – it does not matter if you are English, Australian or American, there is one statistic that unites all of these nations. If you are a man, you are most likely to die from heart disease. Despite the incredible rise in standard of living, the rise of cancer and the threat of terrorism, good old heart disease is still the number 1 killer for men.

These days we understand much about heart disease – about how arteries harden and stiffen over time, how diet and being overweight can affect your health. Of course, the Roseto Effect – a ground breaking study that has been lost in the annals of scientific history – shows us that our understanding of the true root cause of heart disease still has a long way to go. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, the relationship between stress and heart attack has been well proven.

So how do we deal with stress as men? What causes it? Is it just the pressure of work, money, and survival? Well, let us imagine you could relieve a man of all of those pressures. The chances are he would likely find a way to create stress in his life.

Otto Bathurst has a play on the treadmill and makes a startling discovery on just how easily we place pressure on our bodies without even realising the fact:

A simple experiment – a huge fact

Most mornings I walk for twenty-ish minutes on a running machine as part of my daily exercise rhythm. I have recently been staying in a hotel in New York and was walking on a different type of running machine to my usual. On the display is a graphic of a running track and as you walk, a red dot traces around the track. There are four markers around the track, each a virtual 100m on from the last, each offering a split time. Walking at 3.8mph I spotted that it took almost exactly four minutes to complete a circuit – one minute to each of the four markers. I began to concentrate on this, focussing on it, watching the dot trace around the track, adjusting the speed of the machine, checking my splits, hoping to arrive at the finish line exactly on the four-minute mark.

And then I measured my heart rate: 116-118bpm (beats per minute) – unusually high for me.

And so I tried something. I took my mind off the track, off the red dot, off the finish line, off the ticking timer. I took my mind away from these mini expectations and goals that I had set and re-connected with myself and just walked.

Immediately my heart rate dropped to 104-106bpm.

Mmm . . . interesting. I have a scientific mind. I like proof. So I took my mind back to the red dot, back to the splits, back to hoping that I’d cross the finish line before the four minutes.

Straight back up to 118bpm.

And again, if I took my mind back to the simplicity of just walking, straight back down to 106bpm.

Conclusive proof.

And that got me thinking about the way I live my life, the way so many of us live our lives. In this simple experiment I was concentrating on the external, on the end game, on the goal. I was in a state of anxiety, expectation and tension. I was looking to the outside, to the results, to the outcome. And look what it was doing to my heart rate.

Now this was just a silly red dot tracing around a computer screen – hardly a serious worry or an important goal. Yet something as trivial as this was increasing my heart rate by at least 10bpm – so imagine what happens if something big is ahead of me. Imagine if the red dot is actually something that matters and the lines are some crucial deadline.

I think it is safe to presume that the increase in my heart rate would be more than 10bpm.

I’m not a cardiologist, but it is with confidence that I can say that if my heart is running that much faster than it needs to, not just for twenty minutes, but for twenty, thirty, fifty years, then it’s going to wear out whole lot faster. Hard to disagree with that fact.

Concrete proof to me that if we are allowing our lives to run us . . . if we are constantly looking outside of ourselves, at results, outcomes, targets, end-games, goals . . . if we are living for recognition, achievements and through ambition . . . then it is exhausting us, wearing us out, hurting our bodies.

And, here’s the kicker in it all; concentrating on the red dot didn’t make the red dot go any faster, and worrying about the blue line didn’t stop the blue line approaching.

(Oh, and by the way – worth adding that getting your heart rate up within the context of exercise is no bad thing, and I do that every morning, but that’s not what this experiment was about).

Filed under

Men's healthHeart diseaseStressTension

  • By Otto Bathurst, Film Director

    Committed to re-discovering and re-connecting to the tenderness, fragility and humility that are the strengths that make a true man.

  • Photography: Cameron Martin, Video and Photography