Grateful for a Healthy Heart

Today is American Thanksgiving. In the U.S. today most everyone stops for at least a few hours to sit and have a meal, usually turkey with all the trimmings.

I had planned to write about all the health benefits of the mighty turkey and why we should enjoy it more than once a year.

But as often happens a very interesting study crossed my desk and changed my mind. The title, “Gratitude is Good for the Soul and it Helps the Heart too.”*  fit the holiday musings much better than the low fat, high protein content of America’s real national bird.

The Thanksgiving holiday originated (so the historians tell us) as a harvest festival where the  Pilgrims expressed their gratitude or thanks for having survived their first winter in America. Today, even though there is a lot of focus on the dinner, the football and shopping that the day brings, Americans do often stop and reflect on the blessings in their lives and that turns out to be a very important health habit.

Paul Mills, researcher at the UC-San Diego School of Medicine, wanted to find out if feeling grateful really did have an impact on heart health.  The first study had 186 people with some heart damage fill out a survey rating how grateful they were for the family and friends in their lives. The people who were the most grateful also had a more positive mental attitude and slept better. Physically they showed lower  levels of inflammation, an indication of better health.

Still the markers of good sleep and positive attitude are somewhat subjective. So the good Mr. Mills did a follow-up study on 40 patients, testing blood levels of the inflammation markers to get a baseline and measuring heart rhythms, then researchers asked half the participants to keep a daily journal and log at least 3 things they were grateful for each day.

After two months, the inflammation markers were tested again and, you guessed it, the people who kept the journal had improved inflammation markers and stronger heart rhythms. All adding up to better heart health.

The researcher is not sure of the mechanism of the cardiac improvement but I have to believe that  focusing on the blessings in our lives and taking time to be grateful can only do a body good.

Happy Thanksgiving from Eat Well Shanghai!