IDF soldiers stand guard at the scene of a terror attack on December 12, 2014. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF soldiers stand guard at the scene of a terror attack on December 12, 2014. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It is already known that war news is bad for your health. Now a new study shows that long-term exposure to the threat of terrorism is as bad and increases the risk of death.

A Hebrew University study of over 17,000 Israelis has found that long-term exposure to the threat of terrorism can elevate people’s resting heart rates and increase their risk of dying. This is the first statistics-based study, and the largest of its kind, which indicates that fear induced by consistent exposure to the threat of terror can lead to negative health consequences and increase the risk of mortality.

“We found that fear of terrorism and existential anxiety may disrupt the control processes using acetylcholine, causing a chronic accelerated heart rate. Together with inflammation, these changes are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” said Prof. Hermona Soreq, the Charlotte Slesinger Professor of Molecular Neuroscience at the Hebrew University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (“ELSC”) and a member of Israel’s National I-Core Center of Excellence for Mass Trauma Research.

To better understand the health risks associated with the fear of terror, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem examined the factors affecting basal (resting) heart rates, and studied how these rates changed over the years during annual checkups of healthy Israeli subjects.

The study was also conducted by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Shani Shenhar-Tsarfaty, a recipient of ELSC and the Israel Ministry of Science’s Eshkol Fellowship and Prof. Yaacov Ritov at the Hebrew University’s Department of Statistics and Center for Rationality.

They studied 17,300 healthy subjects who underwent an annual general medical exam including blood tests, heart rate and stress tests at the Tel Aviv Medical Center. They were given a questionnaire on a wide range of occupational, psychological, and physical factors, including body mass index, blood pressure, fitness, smoking, psychological well-being, anxiety, and fear of terror.

“We wanted to test whether fear of terrorism can predict an increase in pulse rate and increased risk of death,” said Prof. Soreq.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as “Fear and C-reactive protein co-synergize annual pulse increases in healthy adults.”