There is no single way to completely prevent signs of aging. The tried and true tips – moisturize, always use SPF, don’t smoke – are well known, but every once in a while, new data emerges that takes us by surprise.
The latest addition to the anti-aging list is gratitude. It turns out that gratitude is about much more than counting blessings and being thankful for simple pleasures in life. It may also help delay aging, and it offers many overall health benefits.
It Can Help Your Recovery from Cardiac Illness
A study conducted by Mass General and lead by Dr. Jeff Huffman examined the effect of gratitude on the recovery of cardiac patients. Researchers tracked the way that optimism and gratitude affected patients’ quality and speed of recovery. Following an acute coronary syndrome, optimism was shown to be “prospectively and independently associated with superior physical activity and fewer cardiac remissions.”1
“We found that patients who reported feeling more grateful two weeks after their heart attack had better quality of life and were more likely to stick to diet, exercise, and medications at six months than those who felt less grateful,” Huffman said. “This might mean that people who are grateful have a better recovery and are more able to participate in life-prolonging and improving activities.”
In a continuation of the study, Huffman has extended the research into the effect of gratitude for longer periods of time (up to 3 years).2
It makes sense that optimism and gratitude were coupled together for the study. Optimism is an attitude, and gratitude is a practice or habit, and in a lot of cases, it has to be learned.
When it comes to the study of gratitude and its effects on health and well-being, few researchers are as well-versed as Dr. Robert A. Emmons of UC Davis. Together with his team, Emmons has been studying the effects of gratitude since 1984.
In an experiment, Emmons compared those who kept gratitude journals with those who did not. He discovered that those who experience more gratitude also “exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.”3
Seen through Emmon’s lens, gratitude is launchpad for a variety of behaviors that can improve quality of life and help to enhance longevity.
If you’re interested in learning more, Dr. Emmons has also written a book titled Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happy.
It Can Help You Meet Your Goals
While living forever is a novel idea, it’s not a realistic one. What is realistic is getting what you want out of life. In related findings from his study, Dr. Emmons reported that patients who reported higher levels of gratitude also had benefits in the realm of “personal attainment,” meaning they were more likely to achieve their goals, whether those goals were academic, interpersonal, or health-based.
This means that gratitude isn’t just anti-aging, it can also help you to get the life that you want, which is certainly something to be grateful for.
It Can Reduce Stress
It’s been established that stress can wreak havoc on your body, your mind, and your behavior. Unchecked stress can lead to a myriad of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.4
There are many ways to combat stress. Gratitude is one of them. In a study that focused on meditation, subjects were asked to spend 15 minutes each day meditating on feelings of appreciation, and the positive feelings they had for something or someone in their lives. Scientists discovered that subjects who meditated had a 23 percent reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and a 100 percent increase in DHEA – one of the hormones that promotes relaxation.5
It Can Reduce Your Blood Pressure
Can gratitude also affect blood pressure levels? A Temple University study suggests that it can. Researchers examined the effect of gratitude on hypertensive patients. The “grateful group” saw significantly reduced systolic blood pressure compared to the control group, which saw no difference.6
Another study compared the effects of optimism, pessimism, and anxiety on blood pressure and mood, and whether “mood” has any effect on cardiovascular health.7 Those who felt pessimistic or anxious had higher blood pressure levels and reported more negative moods throughout the study. The few times that optimists did feel negative or anxious, their blood pressures spiked to the levels of those who generally were more pessimistic.
The takeaway here: looking for a silver lining can be seriously good for your health, and if you have a bad day, self care is even more important.
It Can Help You Exercise More
Getting motivated to exercise can be challenging. We know that the extended time we spend sitting at our desks is slowly killing us, but still, it can be hard to muster the energy to make it to the gym. And if there’s a line for the elliptical machines? Forget about it.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons found that gratitude can make you exercise more. Participants in his study actually exercised 1.5 hours per week more than those who didn’t practice gratitude. This has added benefits, because exercise has been shown to increase serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you happy. That means that you can live better and feel happier.
Anything that makes it easier to get into a regular work-out routine is something worth checking out. And if taking a moment to reflect can also help you to hit the gym, all the better.
It Can Help Reduce Depression
Depression is a drag. No one enjoys feeling depressed, and yet, it can be a tricky feeling to shake. Turns out: gratitude can help you there, too. In a study that compared treating depression with gratitude vs. cognitive behavioral therapy (aka traditional therapy), researchers found that gratitude can be equally as effective.8
How is this possible? Researchers said by focusing on things you are thankful for makes you less likely to focus on your troubles. You’ll also be more inclined to help others, which can have a positive impact, because you feel like you’re making a difference in the world.
The results are in, and across the board, gratitude can not only have a great effect on your interpersonal relationships – it also has tons of health benefits. It may help to lower your blood pressure. It may also help you get off the couch and to the gym to exercise. It can affect your mood in a positive way, helping to alleviate negative thoughts. So pull out some paper and grab a pen – it’s time to write a list of 10 things you are thankful for today. We hope reading this list is one of them!
For ideas on how to practice an attitude of gratitude, keep reading here:
5 Gratitude Exercises for a Happier You
2 Hospital M. Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program – Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Massgeneralorg. 2016. Accessed December 23, 2016.
3 Gratitude and Well-Being – Emmons Lab. Emmonsfacultyucdavisedu. 2016. Accessed December 23, 2016.
4 Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior – Mayo Clinic. Mayoclinicorg. 2016. Accessed December 23, 2016.
5 Creswell J, Pacilio L, Lindsay E, Brown K. Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014;44:1-12. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.007.
6 Gratitude: Effect on Perspectives and Blood Pressure of Inner-city African-American Hypertensive Patients. Google Books. 2007. Accessed December 23, 2016.
7 Räikkönen K e. Effects of optimism, pessimism, and trait anxiety on ambulatory blood pressure and mood during everyday life. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1999. Accessed December 23, 2016.
8 Wood ATarrier N. Clinical Psychology Review. 1st ed.; 2010.