Q: One of my clients once asked me if there was anything else she could do for her heart health besides eating the right foods and exercising regularly?
A: The answer to her question is absolutely. In fact, you may be surprised by my answer because you do not have to sweat through a workout or follow a strict diet to benefit from this tip. Believe it or not, there is growing research related to the profound heart health effects of gratitude. Let’s look at some science behind this unusual fact. Here are a few examples of how it helps and how you can apply it!
Gratitude Begets Joy – A 1998 study found that 95 percent of respondents felt at least somewhat happy when expressing gratitude, and over half felt extremely happy. People who see themselves as grateful – to others as well as to creation in general – are healthier, more energetic and optimistic, empathetic, and less vulnerable to clinical depression.
Just 5 Minutes of Gratitude Can Shift the Nervous System Toward a Calm State – A 1995 study at the Institute of Heart Math found that states of appreciation are correlated with a physiological state known as resonance (or parasympathetic dominance) – where heart, breathing, blood pressure, as well as brain rhythm and even the electrical potential of the skin are synchronized. In this state of resonance, the body is more efficient.
Gratitude is Correlated with Positive Social Behavior and Health –When a person feels grateful, s/he is more likely to nurture, care for, and contribute to the welfare of others. Thus, a grateful person will be more empathetic, forgiving, and helpful. Forgiveness research shows that when people forgive, they lower their heart rates, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
To apply or increase your gratitude level, begin by:
- Writing down at least 5 things you currently feel grateful for in this very moment.
- Make a list of struggles you have had to overcome and the triumphs that you are proud of and grateful for – perhaps you can share this with a friend, spouse or partner.
- Build a list of all things you are grateful for in your life. Make this list a daily exercise for a few weeks and take notice of the changes that happen.
- Keep a little gratitude journal. Anytime you feel grateful for something, the act of writing it down gives it more strength to rejuvenate your heart.
If you’re not good at journaling, try these alternatives. Next time you are exercising or walking somewhere, recall those things in your day that have already happened that you are grateful for. For example, I awoke today with the ability to make a difference no matter how small, the sun was shining after 3 days of rain or even, the discomfort I have been feeling is a little less today than yesterday.
The key is to keep things simple. Gratitude can be found in the small things just as easily as in the large achievements and outcomes. So, if you want that extra plus in providing yourself heart health, you may want to consider some gratitude practice techniques.
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