Thanksgiving may be over but that’s no reason to dial back on being thankful. In fact, embracing giant helpings of gratitude throughout December and into the New Year may very well be the best thing you could do for your health.
Hear me out because studies show that gratitude can actually contribute to a healthy heart—not in any mushy poetic sense of the word either. I’m talking strengthening the blood-pumping muscular organ itself.
Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, looked at 186 men and women with already somewhat damaged hearts. The average age of these recruits was 66 and most of them had either suffered from a previous heart attack or had gone through periods of time with high blood pressure.
In his preliminary study, Mills had the participants fill out a survey of questions where they rated their level of gratitude concerning the people in their lives, their situation etc. He found that their levels of gratitude directly corresponded with how healthy their hearts were: the more grateful the participant the healthier the heart.
Having found this somewhat unexpected correlation, Mills went on to conduct another study.
A recent NPR article explains,
He tested 40 patients for heart disease and noted biological indications of heart disease such as inflammation and heart rhythm. Then he asked half of the patients to keep a journal most days of the week, and write about two or three things they were grateful for. People wrote about everything, from appreciating children to being grateful for spouses, friends, pets, travel, jobs and even good food.”
Mills retested the participants two months later only to find that the theory held up. Keeping a so-called gratitude journal had improved the group’s overall heart health with notable reduction in inflammation levels and heart rhythm improvement.
The same NPR article continues,
…when he compared their heart disease risk before and after journal writing, there was a decrease in risk after two months of writing in their journals.”
Now that’s some powerful medicine!
Another 2006 study published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy found that gratitude also had a significant effect on resilience. The research focused on Vietnam veterans and found that the ex-soldiers with higher levels of gratitude suffered less from Post Traumatic Stress disorder.
But that’s not all. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research participants that wrote down daily lists of what they were grateful for also slept better than their not so grateful counterparts.
And the list goes on. As reported in a recent article in Time,
An analysis of nearly 1,000 Swiss adults published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that higher levels of dispositional gratitude were correlated with better self-reported physical health. The people who felt more gracious had a notable willingness to partake in healthy behaviors and seek help for their health-related concerns.Other research has suggested that people who are grateful are more likely to do physical activity.”
With so many health benefits brought about by gratitude, the question becomes how might we incorporate it into our daily lives? Well, it seems it may be as simple as keeping a journal and writing down three things you are thankful for everyday. This type of mindful practice sounds simple but, as noted above, the benefits of staying grounded in gratitude may very well begin to surprise you!
- Gratitude is good for the soul and it helps the heart too via NPR
- Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions via NCBI
- 5 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude via Newsweek
- Why being Grateful is Good for You via Time