A happy heart is a healthy heart, according to the latest research. Until recently, it was generally believed that so-called Type A behavior such as impatience, talking fast, and working long hours were at the core of the emotional or psychosomatic risk factors for heart disease.
But recent studies suggest that suspicion and hostility toward others is what puts the Type A person at risk. Redford B. Williams, Jr., M.D., professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, led a study that looked at the health records of 118 attorneys who took a standard personality test 25 years ago. Those who scored high in hostility were more than 4 times more likely to die than those who scored low. When Dr. Williams further narrowed the field by focusing only on those who score high in portions of the hostility scale involving cynical mistrust, anger, and aggression, he found that those who score high had a death rate 5 1/2 times that of low scorers. Other studies have confirmed this link.
What is it about mistrust, anger, and aggression that appear to be so toxic? Dr. Williams, the author of The Trusting Heart: Great News about Type A Behavior, believes that hostile people may simple have a shorter fuse before firing off stress hormones that can damage the heart and blood vessels. Trusting people may have a reduced risk because situations and events that trigger a stress explosion in angry people do not cost them nearly as much physiologically.
Consider counseling or group therapy. Research has shown that this is an effective way to lengthen your Type A fuse and extend your life. Meyer Friedman, M.D., one of the physicians who originally described Type A behavior and its effects on the heart, put almost 600 cardiac patients through a course of Type A behavioral counseling. At the end of 4 1/2 years, those who went through the counseling had a cardiac recurrence rate that was less than half the rate of those who receive no counseling and was still substantially less than those who received cardiac counseling but no behavioral therapy.
Such therapy is becoming more and more available, according to Dr. Williams. Medical schools and hospitals often have rehabilitation programs for heart patients which include group counseling.
Add exercise to your life. Not all the health news about Type A's is bad. For one thing, a Type A person benefits more from exercise than his mellower, more laid-back counterparts. And contrary to A-type expectations, the most effective exercise is mild exercise, such as walking. It appears to clear the blood of excess stress hormones better than strenuous activities-which can actually stimulate more of the hormones.