Middle-aged women who are kind to themselves have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, says new research.
When we take steps to prevent heart disease, the first behaviours we consider altering are likely to be diet, exercise and finding ways to reduce stress. Mindfulness and yoga practices have become popular in recent years to manage stress, but something else also helps.
Rebecca Thurston, Professor of Psychiatry, Clinical and Translational Science. Epidemiology and Psychology at the University of Pittsburg in the US investigated whether self-compassion altered cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged women.
For the study, nearly two hundred women aged 45-67 completed a short questionnaire to determine how often they experienced feelings of inadequacy, whether they often felt disappointed by their self-perceived flaws or if they granted themselves caring and tenderness during difficult life moments.
In addition, the researchers measured the BMI, blood pressure, blood lipids, insulin resistance, and carried out an ultrasound of the carotid artery. The carotid artery is a major blood vessel in the neck transporting blood from the heart to the brain. The thickness of the wall and plaque are linked to cardiovascular disease risk.
The carotid artery is a major blood vessel in the neck transporting blood from the heart to the brain. Carotid artery wall thickness and plaque are linked to cardiovascular disease risk.
The results published on the American Association Psychnet found those scoring high in self-compassion had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque build-up compared to those low in self-compassion. Even after accounting for other factors associated with cardiovascular disease risks such as exercise, smoking, and depressive symptoms, the results remained.
“These findings underscore the importance of practicing kindness toward yourself,” said Thurston in a press report. “We are all living through extraordinarily stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for both our mental and physical health.”
Rebecca C. Thurston, Megan M. Fritz, Yuefang Chang, Emma Barinas Mitchell, Pauline M. Maki. Self-compassion and subclinical cardiovascular disease among midlife women.. Health Psychology, 2021; 40 (11): 747 DOI: 10.1037/hea0001137