Anxious men were 30% to 40% more likely than calmer men to have a heart attack during the 12-year study, regardless of other physical or personality risk factors.
The study included 735 Boston men. When the study started, the men were 60 years old, on average, and had no history of coronary disease or diabetes.
The men completed personality surveys that gauged their anxiety, anger, depression, hostility, type A behavior, and other negative emotions. They also got blood pressure tests, provided blood samples, reported their alcohol and cigarette use, and noted other facts about themselves, such as their marital status and years of education.
High anxiety scores on the personality tests predicted which men had heart attacks, regardless of other factors including the men's age, cholesterol levels, marital status, education, and BMI (body mass index, which relates height to weight).
"Anxiety-prone dispositions appear to be a robust and independent risk factor of myocardial infarction [heart attack] among older men," write the researchers.
They included Biing-Jiun Shen, PhD, of the psychology department at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Shen's team notes that it's not clear if the findings apply to women, and more research is needed to understand the relationship between anxiety and men's heart attacks.