More Thankful Equals Better Mental and Physical Health

June 7th, 2015 by Dr. Keith Nemec

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.

“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 researcher, the professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego.

Gratitude is part of a wider outlook on life that involves noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of life. It can be attributed to an external source another person or God). It is also commonly an aspect of spirituality. Because previous research has shown that people who considered themselves more spiritual had greater overall well-being, including physical health, reseachers examined the role of both spirituality and gratitude on potential health markers in patients.

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 (e.g., shortness of breath or fatigue). This stage is an important therapeutic window for halting disease progression and improving quality of life since Stage B patients are at high risk of progressing to symptomatic (Stage C) heart failure, where risk of death is five times higher.

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.

What surprised the researchers about the findings, though, was that gratitude fully or partially accounted for the beneficial effects of spiritual well-being.

“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”.

To further test their findings, the researchers asked some of the patients to write down three things for which they were thankful most days of the week for eight weeks. Both groups continued to receive regular clinical care during that time.

“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 while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk”.

“It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and it supports cardiac health.”

-Spirituality in Clinical Practice

Dr. Keith & Laurie Nemec’s comments on “More Thankful Equal Better Mental and Physical Health:

What is gratitude? The dictionary definition is “a feeling of being grateful to someone because they have given you something or have done something for you”. From the original Latin it means “gratitudinem (nominative gratitudo) “thankfulness,” from Latin gratus “thankful”.

This research just confirms what has been known for thousands of years. It was a simple but so powerful verse from the Bible:

1 Thess 5:16-18

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. NIV

How can you give thanks when you have a disease, when your spouse wants to divorce you, when you lost your job, or cannot pay your bills? How can you give thanks when everything is going wrong in your life?

Because no matter what hits you in this life and not matter how bad it appears you must put everything in its eternal perspective. What will matter 100 years from this day to YOU? Only things of the heart, only things of the spirit, only things of God. God did not bring the disease, the relationship problem, the job situation or the financial situation but what He did bring is the ANSWER to all the problems and situations. He sent His one and only Son to make sure you could overcome all obstacles and have the power of His Spirit living in your to give you the wisdom, the love, the power to go forth and walk in victory and freedom no matter how much this world tries to steal from you, no matter how much this world tries to kill you and the desires He has put into your heart, no matter how much this world tries to destroy who you are which is the son or daughter of God.

Remember and never ever forget:

“What the world means for evil God will turn it around into victory and freedom”.

How does this happen? You must walk by faith, totally trusting what HE said is True and that Truth will manifest in your life if you meditate on it day and night. Who are you going to believe your circumstances or GOD? Your body or GOD? Your finances or God? When you realize that God cannot lie and His Word is the same yesterday, today and forever then you will start trusting what He says more and more and what the situations say less and less. This is the faith, the trust that produces action steps in you led by the Holy Spirit within you.

This all begins with thankfulness. Thank God that He sent His Son Jesus to set you free from all the power of the lie and that He placed in your heart the Spirit of Truth. You will know the Truth (in each and every area of your life) and the Truth will set you free.

This world cannot defeat you if you live from a thankful heart to your Father in Heaven for sending His Son Jesus to set you free from all obstacles that could ever come against you and by constantly listening to the voice of Truth as the Holy Spirit guides you in your life journey.  Many of our patients have realized this Truth with our teaching on knowing who you are in Christ. The audio series is called “sally & george- Going Deeper

Don’t forget to thank people in your life who help you and do things for you. This is the natural expression of a thankful heart to thank others for the good they do for you no matter how small it may appear. It acknowledges that they gave to you from their heart and this thankfulness empowers both their heart and yours.

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