When was the last time you said thank you? Those two little words may be more powerful than you realise.
Expressing gratitude doesn't just warm your heart, it may also make it healthier, according to a new study.
Research published by the American Psychological Association found that heart patients who regularly expressed gratitude experienced improved mental and physical health.
“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 involved 186 men and women who had been diagnosed with asymptomatic (Stage B) heart failure.
Stage B heart failure is when the patient has developed structural heart disease (eg. they've had a heart attack that damaged the heart) - but does not show symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath or fatigue.
It is important for these patients to make healthy changes to their lifestyle, because they are at high risk of progressing to symptomatic (Stage C) heart failure, where risk of death is five times higher, according to Mills.
Each patient's level of gratitude was assessed using psychological tests and the researchers also took into account their depressive symptoms, sleep quality, fatigue, self-efficacy (belief in their ability to deal with a situation) and inflammatory markers, (inflammation can often worsen heart failure).
They found that for these patients, gratitude was associated with better mood, higher quality sleep, more self-efficacy and less inflammation.
To further test the findings, the researchers asked some of the patients to write down three things they were thankful for, most days for eight weeks.
“We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for those eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability," said Mills.
"Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk," he added.
“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."
So let us take this opportunity to say thank you for reading this article!
Speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle about the study, Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation said:
“These findings are interesting and add to the evidence which suggests people who report more gratitude and have an optimistic outlook experience better well-being.
"However more research is needed to fully understand why this is.
"There are many ways you can help keep your heart healthy. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and keeping as active as possible are just a few of the things you can do each day.
"If you’re over 40, you can also ask your GP for a free heart health check. Some risk factors don’t have any obvious symptoms, so the only way to know if you’re at risk is to get checked out.”
For more ways to look after your heart scroll through the gallery below: