Researchers: Gratitude is Good Medicine for the Heart

By KATHY MEGYERI

February is American Heart Month, a reminder to take care of this very precious organ. One in four deaths is caused by heart disease; it’s the leading cause of death for Americans.

Risk factors include obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes. The good news is that heart disease can be preventable when people make healthy choices. Common sense practices include eating healthy diets, limiting salt, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol use and quitting smoking.

The American Heart Association’s website (heart.org) is touting another important practice – that of showing gratitude. It’s not quite the same as
thankfulness, where one appreciates certain things, but more the state of our soul, an appreciation for our existence.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at University of California-Davis and author of The Little Book of Gratitude explains the difference between gratitude and thankfulness:

Gratitude is an affirmation of the goodness in one’s life and the recognition that the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self. It’s a trait, a state, and a way of coping and a virtue all rolled into one.”

Emmons says gratitude is good medicine.

Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure and improve
immune function…grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of
medication adherence.”

Other researchers concur. The University College in London found that elders who were happy with their lives lived 20-35 percent longer than those who were
less so. A Scandinavian study of people 85 and older found those who felt more optimistic about life lived an average of 5 years longer than their pessimistic
counterparts.

In addition, Dr. Paul Mills, a professor and researcher at the University of California-San Diego, studied 186 men and women with asymptomatic Stage
B heart failure to see how their sense of thankfulness and gratitude affected their overall health. He found that after two months, the patients who expressed
higher levels of gratitude had less depression, less anxiety, slept better, had lower levels of inflammation, and had better heart health.

Said Mills: “That was a lovely surprise. We thought people who had more gratitude would have a better sense of well-being, but we didn’t expect to see
changes in their biology as well. We saw that indeed a grateful heart is a healthier heart.”

Negativity and cynicism can lead to depression which is linked to poor heart health, a weaker immune system, and heart inflammation, according to the
Journal of Cognition and Emotion and the National Institutes of Health. Some neurosurgeons argue that our brains focus on negative information so we
remember pain in an attempt to avoid it and therefore stay safe. Thus, they call it “negativity bias,” and many people immerse themselves in such bias.

To reverse negativity bias and practice gratitude, here are some tips from the American Heart Association. Write these down before you go to bed
or share them around the dinner table.

In five minutes, you can practice
gratitude from the H.E.A.R.T.

HEALTH: What did your body do for you today?
Did you know you take about eight million breaths
a year? Your feet can take you up a mountain; your
arms can hold someone you love. Take a minute to
marvel at the finely tuned machinery of your body.

EAT: What did you feed your body to nourish yourself today? Was it an old favorite, something you made, or something new and different? If you eat three meals a day, you’ll eat about a thousand
meals this year. Take a minute to savor an especially delicious meal.

ACTIVITY: What did you do that really enjoyed today? Did you give it your all at the gym or take
a quiet walk on the beach. Take a minute to think back on one particularly splendid moment.

RELATIONSHIP: Who do you look forward to
seeing? Is it someone who sets your heart on fire,
always has a smile for you, has your back, or makes
you laugh until you cry? Take a minute to smile as
you think about this special person.

TIME: What are you doing right now? Every single
day you wake up with 24 brand new hours. The past
is history, the future is a mystery, and today is a gift.
That’s why they call it the present. Take a minute to
be thankful for the gift of time.

 

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