There is emerging scientific evidence to support the idea that a simple daily practice of gratitude can dramatically affect our susceptibility to cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The odds that you or your family will be affected are very high. This is especially unfortunate considering that heart disease is classified as a lifestyle disease, meaning that it is seen as more of as a result of our daily decisions than simply as a genetic inevitability. With this in mind, it is important for us to empower ourselves with the tools to promote heart health and vitality.
You are probably aware that healthy diet, adequate exercise, and low stress are important in preventing heart disease. Dietary cholesterol has been largely vindicated as a driver of heart disease and overconsumption of refined sugar has been implicated as a likely culprit. This points to a diet low in refined sugar, moderate in protein, and high in vegetables and healthy fats. Regular physical activity has also proved crucial to cardiovascular health. Even going on a 15-30 minute walk most days with one or two short higher intensity workouts per week can make a huge difference.
But what about the effect of stress?
How do you mitigate the stressful nature of the fast-paced modern lifestyle? Yoga and meditation are gaining popularity. Many people like to get a massage or go to a spa. Maybe you even just wait until you can go on vacation to an exotic beach before you allow yourself to really relax and unwind.
These are all great ways to lower stress but in most cases they require more time or money than you would are willing to set aside. So what if I told you that you could greatly reduce your stress and therefore your risk for heart disease in mere minutes per day?
An Attitude of Gratitude
A number of studies have been coming out over the past few years showing the power of gratitude and appreciation to benefit heart health. These studies show that the more grateful people are, the healthier they tend to be.
One study, published by the American Psychological Association, examined 186 men and women with weakened cardiovascular health. A subset of 40 patients were asked to keep a daily journal where they would write down a couple of things they felt grateful for. After two months of this practice the 40 patients were found to have reduced inflammation, improved heart rhythm, and an overall lower risk for heart disease.
“We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for those eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they journaled. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk,” study author Paul J Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego.
These profound effects were seen from mere minutes of daily gratitude journaling practice. This shows how powerfully your emotional state can affect your physical body. What’s even more amazing is the potential that this practice has to reframe the way you see the world. By consistently and consciously focusing on gratitude for just a few minutes every morning you set your mind up to be more likely to find things to be grateful for throughout the day.
Try it Out For Yourself!
Get a notebook or journal to leave on your bedside. First thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, open your journal and write down three things that make you feel grateful. Spend a moment to really revel in the feeling of gratitude. Experience it fully. Then write down two things that you would make the upcoming day great followed by two affirmations. (This protocol is adapted from the 5-Minute Journal)
3 Things That Make You Grateful: ex. “My job, My family, My health”
2 Things That Would Make Today Great: ex. “I finish my project, I make time for self-care”
2 Affirmations: “I am healthy and strong, I am capable of anything”
Help Your Heart
Not only is gratitude beneficial to mental and spiritual health, but physical health as well. By allowing yourself the small amount of time and space required for a few minutes of journaling every morning, you can measurably affect your cardiac health. With heart disease holding strong as the number one cause of death for Americans, this practice can benefit everyone from the old to the young and from the sick to the healthy.