Our minds and emotions are intimately entwined with our bodies, and we usually think of good health as affecting our well-being, which it certainly does. But our emotions can affect our physical health too.
A study looked at nearly 5,000 people who were tested for both cardiorespiratory fitness (on a treadmill) and their emotional state.(1)
ACLS participants were mostly Caucasian (98%), well-educated, and worked in executive or professional positions. All participants completed a detailed questionnaire (including a self-report physical activity measure) and underwent an extensive clinical evaluation, including a physical examination, fasting blood chemistry analyses, personal and family health history, anthropometry, smoking and alcohol use, and a maximal exercise treadmill test.
The test of emotional states had two subscales, one each for positive and negative emotions.
The positive emotions were: feeling as good as other people, hopeful, happy, and joy.
Negative emotions were: not able to shake off the blues, depressed, my life had been a failure, fearful, lonely, crying spells, and sad.
The participants were followed for 15 years, and deaths recorded.
As expected, cardiorespiratory fitness significantly lowered mortality rates. Those with high fitness had about half the death rate, hazard ratio 0.54, of those with low fitness.
In participants with high fitness, those with a low level of negative emotion had about half the risk, hazard ratio 0.51, as those with high levels of negative emotion. There was no significant effect of negative emotion in those with low fitness.
Those with both high fitness and low negative emotions had over a 65% reduction in death rate compared to those with low fitness and high negative emotions.
There was no association between positive emotions and death rates.
The study showed that both cardiorespiratory fitness and negative emotions exert independent, and strong, effects on risk of death. Even if you are maximally fit, then having negative emotions can harm you.
Removing negative emotions could be the subject of an entire bookshelf, and I’m sure it is. The negative emotions listed in the test, “not able to shake off the blues, depressed, my life had been a failure, fearful, lonely, crying spells and sad”, sound a lot like major depression, which has a known effect on mortality. (Raises it, if that’s not obvious.)
Here are some suggestions for getting rid of depression.
Noteworthy from the above study is that positive emotions had no effect. If you’re not feeling joy or happiness, that’s something to be worked on certainly, but that won’t kill you. It’s the feelings of depression and worthlessness that will.
P.S. (added). Several people have mentioned that I neglected to add cold showers to my list of antidepressants. I certainly did (neglect that), and cold showers are absolutely a must for anyone who is depressed or has anxiety. I’ll add that to the list above.