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Shedding Light in the Darkness

Gratitude and a Healthy Heart

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Recognizing and giving thanks for the positive aspects of life can result in improved mental, and ultimately physical, health in patients with asymptomatic heart failure, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. “We found that more gratitude in these patients was associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health,” said lead author Paul J. Mills, PhD, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. The study was published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

The study involved 186 men and women who had been diagnosed with asymptomatic (Stage B) heart failure for at least three months. Stage B consists of patients who have developed structural heart disease (e.g., have had a heart attack that damaged the heart) but do not show symptoms of heart failure.

Using standard psychological tests, the researchers obtained scores for gratitude and spiritual well-being. They then compared those scores with the patients’ scores for depressive symptom severity, sleep quality, fatigue, self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to deal with a situation) and inflammatory markers. They found higher gratitude scores were associated with better mood, higher quality sleep, more self-efficacy and less inflammation. Inflammation can often worsen heart failure.

“We found that spiritual well-being was associated with better mood and sleep, but it was the gratitude aspect of spirituality that accounted for those effects, not spirituality per se,” said Mills. “It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health.”

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