Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Open hearts live longer

Do you allow yourself to cry in front of others? Do you feel okay if someone tells you that you are a great person? Are you able to speak to a person who has negative feelings about you? If you answer with yes these and more questions of this kind, you may be more likely to live longer.

Such an open attitude has been found to prolong life in a sample of about a thousand heart patients in Durham, North Carolina. Various personality traits have been assessed by a test (NEO PI) that is widely used in psychology and that has been proven as reliable. This test measures six different facets in the openness dimension: Openness to fantasy, aesthetics, feelings, actions, ideas, and values.

About fifteen years after the test roughly half of the patients have died, most of them from heart disease. A relation of their fate to the earlier test results shows that two of the six facets of openness correlate with a longer life and a reduced heart risk: Openness to feelings and to actions. For instance, a heart patient is likely to live longer if he can deal with strong emotions of others as well as of his own, or if he is able to take action in a dilemma instead of just sitting there, thinking back and forth.

In contrast, you may be open to fantasy and beautiful things, to new ideas and to values which for sure will make you live a better life. But it will not, or only partially, influence your health, according to the Durham study. It seems to me that the heart is more influenced by the openness in the «gut dimension» than in the «head dimension». Sounds reasonable, as the heart is one of the inner organs.

Limits and meanings of this study

The study is about heart patients. It cannot be concluded that being open to feelings and actions will prevent healthy people from getting a cardiac disease although this is reasonable to assume.

Mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body, as the old Romans used to say. The key message is that this old wisdom has been proven right by science, and that new studies are adding more and interesting details to it.

Carnival of Healing at Optimist Lab
The 90th edition of the Carnival of Healing is up at Optimist Lab, presenting a weekly round-up of personal blog posts on the topics of holistic health, wellness, spirituality, and self empowerment. My post also has been included.

(Picture by Mundoo @ Flickr)

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