Oh, great — a new study from the United Kingdom links sarcasm, cynicism and a generally irritable disposition to a higher risk of cardiac failure. To make matters worse, believe it or not, outwardly hostile public displays of dissatisfaction with society at large claims to be the culprit for heart attacks a mere 2 years after what many might consider a ‘grumpy gusses’ very first myocardial infarction. The American Heart Association reports
“About every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.”
Let’s take a closer look into how psychological and social factors can affect our heart health.
Your mind affects your body
We’re all familiar with the colloquialism “life is what you make it.” Turns out a more positive, renewed perspective on life and mindfulness can potentially save your life. Having a negative mindset can be disastrous to your heart health and here’s why according to a study drawn out by researchers working at the University of Tennessee in the United States.
“Hostile individuals have increased clotting times, higher adrenaline levels, above normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increased cardiac reactivity. These known inflammatory factors may initiate cardiac events and increase poor clinical outcomes.”
Breakdown of the case study
The University of Tennessee researches took a sample of 2,300 heart attack survivors and studied them and their behavioral and social tendencies. Participants who were openly sarcastic, cynical, impatient, resentful or even the least bit irritable were found to have a higher risk for a second heart attack within two years of their first one.
The author of the study at the University of Tennessee, Tracey Vitori, expounds on these findings further by saying
“Hostility is a personality trait that includes being sarcastic, cynical, resentful, impatient or irritable.
It’s not just a one-off occurrence but characterizes how a person interacts with people. We know that taking control of lifestyle habits improves the outlook for heart attack patients and our study suggests that improving hostile behaviors could also be a positive move.”
Tracey is a long-standing trained Biobehavioral Rich Heart Scholar with the Cardiopulmonary Research Scientists in Kentucky with a focus on psychological distress in patients living with cardiovascular disease. I think she would know what’s good for you, I type carefully devoid of sarcastic undertones in hopes of adding a few years to my own life.
What can a positive outlook do for your health?
Prior research proves a sunny disposition is linked to reduced stress hormones, lower pulse rate and low-level blood pressure which are all congruent with a healthy, strong cardiac system. In fact, mindful meditation and yoga are great for lowering the release of stress hormones, like cortisol, that can be highly damaging to your heart. Meditation also reduced high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and coronary artery disease in every participant.
The cost of adrenaline on the body, especially the heart is exceptionally troubling. A quote pulled from Nicole Vogelzangs, Ph.D., of VU University Medical Center in The Netherlands who led a study on the effects cortisol has on the human heart is illustrated here.
“In stressful situations, the body responds by producing the hormone cortisol. The effects of cortisol are intended to help the body recover from stress and regain a status of homeostasis, however, chronically elevated cortisol levels have been associated with cardiovascular risk factors, such as the metabolic syndrome and accelerated atherosclerosis.”
Originally published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism the Ph.D. and author of the study Vogelzangs adds
“The results of our study clearly show that cortisol levels in a general older population predict cardiovascular death, but not other causes of mortality.”
How did she come upon this conclusion? I will provide a further breakdown of her case study next.
“In this study, researchers evaluated 861 people aged 65 years and older who participated in a prospective cohort study. Within six years of the beginning of the study 183 participants had died. Urinary cortisol levels of subjects were measured at the beginning of the study and the cause of death was ascertained from death certificates. Researchers found that urinary cortisol did not increase the risk of non-cardiovascular mortality but did increase cardiovascular mortality risk. The third of the subjects with the highest urinary cortisol had a five-fold increased risk of dying of a cardiovascular disease.”
What I learned
I suppose keeping a positive attitude and treating friends and loved ones earnestly with grace in these stressful times doesn’t just improve your spirit. A good disposition without sarcastic or thoughtless dispersions can elevate your mood and decrease your chance of myocardial infarctions.