Stress and Health
We've long known that middle-aged men are much more likely than women to have high blood pressure—about 36 percent of men versus 23 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 54. And, since high blood pressure can lead to stroke, it's not surprising that many more men keel over from these "brain attacks"—roughly 71,000 versus 50,000 per year for men and women, respectively, between 45 and 64 years old.
The standard explanation for this difference between the sexes has been lifestyle. Men are more likely to smoke, be overweight, drink alcohol, and avoid exercise—all risk factors for high blood pressure. Undoubtedly, poor health habits account for much of the difference, but there's a detail that doesn't quite fit the explanation. Black men are at far greater risk of high blood pressure than are white men, and nearly twice as many die of strokes.
James Blumenthal, of Duke University, thinks he has an explanation.
Blumenthal studied how patients respond to stress—both mental
and physical—and found that the blood vessels of both males and
females, and blacks and whites reacted quite differently. On average,
the blood vessels of white women constricted less under stress than
did those of white men, and black men showed greater constriction than
either group. The greater the constriction, the higher the blood pressure.