- More than 900 people took part in a study with an average age of 57
- Indications writing lists of things you are grateful for can boost wellbeing
- In the UK, as many as 100,000 people a year suffer from a heart attack
Being grateful for people and things in your life could reduce your risk of having a heart attack, research suggests.
More than 900 people taking part in a study were asked how much they agreed with the statement ‘I have so much in life to be thankful for’, as well as being questioned on how strongly they felt ‘grateful to a wide variety of people’.
The findings showed that those who expressed the most gratitude were less likely to have a heart attack in the next four to nine years.
It follows indications that writing short lists of things you are grateful for can boost wellbeing and life satisfaction, with keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ now increasingly fashionable.
However, the study found people with high levels of gratitude only had a reduced risk of having a heart attack if stressful situations also increased their heart rate.
Findings showed that those who expressed the most gratitude were less likely to have a heart attack in the next four to nine years
In the UK, approximately one person every five minutes is admitted to hospital after having a heart attack – as many as 100,000 people a year
More research is needed, as a raised heart rate in response to stress is more typically linked to a greater risk of heart problems.
But the study authors suggest the findings may be explained as people who are prepared to make more of an effort in stressful situations are usually the ones who are the most grateful in life.
This might increase their heart rate, but also mean they are less stressed overall – with calmer people typically leading healthier lives, so potentially less likely to have a heart attack.
Mr Brian Leavy, a psychologist from Maynooth University in Ireland, who led the study, said: ‘The results obtained have provided further evidence that positive emotions, like gratitude, are associated with better health outcomes, particularly in promoting cardiovascular health.’
The study, published in the journal Biological Psychology, looked at 912 people in the US with an average age of 57.
They were asked about gratitude, and also subjected to an arithmetic test to raise their stress levels.
They also did a test in which they saw words such as red, sometimes confusingly written in a yellow font, and had to rapidly answer the colour of the font, rather than the colour the word described.
To ramp up the pressure of both tests, people were told if they didn’t answer fast enough their answers would automatically be marked as wrong.
People who were very grateful about the things and people in their life, and whose heart rate also rose in response to the stressful tests, were less likely to have a heart attack.
In the UK, approximately one person every five minutes is admitted to hospital after having a heart attack – as many as 100,000 people a year.
The study findings suggest grateful people, who may also be more optimistic and positive, may have engaged more with stressful tasks, trying harder to complete them, hence their heart rate rise – which might mean they felt less pressure as a result.
That could prevent them turning to unhealthy coping strategies which might harm their heart, although this is speculation and was not shown by the study.
People who were most grateful had lower odds of suffering a heart attack, the study found, even taking into account factors like their age, body mass index (BMI) and whether they had ever smoked.
This was despite a third of the study participants having high blood pressure, and almost one in 10 having diabetes, which can raise the risk of having a heart attack.