Feeling thankful can lead to a healthier heart, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Acknowledging and appreciating the positive aspects of life was found to be linked to improved mood and sleep, and reduced levels of fatigue in heart disease patients, researchers found. At the microscopic level, gratitude was associated with reduced levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health. Inflammation can exacerbate heart failure.
The study, titled The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-Being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients, could have implications for physicians, healthcare administrators and other medical professionals dealing with the huge and costly issue of heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer globally, with more than 17 million deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association. In the United States, about 735,000 people have a heart attack annually and more than 600,000 die of heart disease, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Heart disease and stroke cost the United States an estimated $312 billion annually in healthcare expenses and lost productivity, CDC data shows.
Heart failure rates are expected to nearly triple over the next few decades as the population ages, according to The Role of Gratitude study, which was published in April 2015 in the APA journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.
The study’s authors looked at 186 men and women who had been diagnosed with asymptomatic, or Stage B, heart failure for at least three months. The patients had suffered heart damage but did not demonstrate symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue.
The authors say Stage B is a critical period in which to introduce therapy to halt the progression of heart disease and damage before it reaches Stage C, or symptomatic, heart failure, when the risk of death greatly increases.
According to an APA news release, the researchers administered psychological tests to obtain gratitude and spiritual well-being scores for the patients, comparing those against the patients’ scores for depressive symptom severity, sleep quality, fatigue and inflammatory markers.
Patients who were more thankful and appreciative also had more self-efficacy, or belief in their ability to deal with the situation, the study found.
Some study participants were asked to maintain “gratitude journals,” writing down things for which they were thankful. Those patients also showed lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers.
This isn’t the first research into happiness and heart health. A 2012 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found links between feelings such as optimism and life satisfaction and reduced risks of stroke and heart disease.