How (and why) gratitude can improve your health

How (and why) gratitude can improve your health

At this time of year, we may think more deeply about our lives—what we have accomplished, what we want to do, and about friends and family. Today we discuss research showing that the act of expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives will make us happier, and improve our heart and immune functions as well.

Gratitude helps your heart function better

The latest big study on gratitude was led by Paul J. Mills, PhD, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. He studied 186 men and women with Stage B heart failure. These people already suffered structural heart damage, but did not have symptoms such as shortness of breath or fatigue.

The goal in these patients is to stabilize their heart functioning, so that they do not progress to Stage C, with symptoms that impact their life quality. One of the studies asked half of the patients to make a “gratitude journal” for 8 weeks, while the other half did not. Those who made the gratitude journal were asked to write down two or three things they were grateful for in their lives. They were to do this most every night before sleep.

People wrote about things from their past, present, or their hopes for the future. They wrote about everything—from spouses, to pets, food, travel, their job, their friends, families and home, and hobbies, and more.

At the end of two months, the patients who kept a gratitude journal were found to have significantly lower blood levels of “inflammatory biomarkers”. These biomarkers are a sign of stress on the heart. They go up when inflammation increases and certain enzymes and proteins, such as cytokines, are released, that damage the heart and other organs.

The ones who kept a gratitude journal also had better heart rhythms, and “showed a better well-being, a less depressed mood, less fatigue and they slept better.”

Other research on gratitude

Other studies have concluded that people who express gratitude to their friends and partners have better relationships, and that bosses who express gratitude have more productive workers. People who express thanks have been shown to even eat healthier, with less fat intake. They have a stronger immune system, with more activated infection fighting cells.

Why gratitude has positive physical benefits

The researchers believe the benefits come from stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which overall calms and protects the body from stress. Cortisol (a stress hormone) levels are lower, and levels of oxytocin (the so called “love hormone”) increase.

If you are not “into” gratitude

The psychologists say that while some people naturally express gratitude, that if you are a person who does not, it is easy to learn. Start small and keep a pen by your bed and, before you sleep, write down at least one thing you are thankful for. Do this most nights, and you will see benefits.

If you don’t want to write, at least think about things you are grateful for. The act that has shown the most benefit is to write a person you have not thanked before. But if you don’t want to write, mentally thanking is helpful too. Some people express gratitude through prayer or meditation.

Spirituality

To end, we again quote Dr. Mills:

 “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)