STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now as we begin this Thanksgiving week, this piece of research caught our eye. Gratitude is good for the heart. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Researchers know a positive mental attitude is good for your health. It fends off depression, stress and anxiety. But UC San Diego neurophysiologist Paul Mills, who's worked with heart patients for years, wondered if the very specific feeling of gratitude could help the heart. So he recruited patients who already had some damage to their heart.
PAUL MILLS: Either through years of sustained high blood pressure or as a result of a heart attack or even an infection in the heart itself.
NEIGHMOND: A total of 186 men and women, average age 66, filled out standard questionnaires rating how grateful they felt for people, places or things in their life. It turned out the more grateful people were the healthier they were.
MILLS: Those patients had less depressed mood, slept better, had more energy.
NEIGHMOND: And when Mills did blood tests to measure inflammation, the body's natural response to injury or plaque buildup in the arteries, he found lower levels among those who were grateful. And because these patients are sort of midway in the development of heart disease, this could be an important window of opportunity to intervene and stop the disease from progressing on to a heart attack or heart failure. So Mills did a follow-up study to look even more closely at gratitude. He tested patients for heart disease, and then asked them to keep a daily journal.
MILLS: We asked them for most days of the week please sit down and write down two or three things that you are grateful for. And you can write a few sentences. You can write paragraphs, pages, whatever you're inspired to do.
NEIGHMOND: People wrote about appreciating children, spouses, friends, jobs, pets, travel. After two months, Mills tested them again and found that writing about gratitude actually reduced their heart disease risk, inflammation decreased and heart rhythm improved. Mills isn't sure exactly how gratitude helps the heart, but he thinks it's because it reduces stress, a huge factor in heart disease.
MILLS: By focusing on those things that you can feel grateful for and acknowledging their presence in your life and letting that sense of gratitude wash over you, that very much helps us manage and cope.
NEIGHMOND: So Mills says take a little time every day to think about what you're grateful for, and you could be helping your heart. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.