We all know that a positive attitude makes us feel better, but can it be beneficial to your health? This month we are delving into a heartwarming topic — the benefits of gratitude and gratitude journaling on cardiovascular health. As we discuss the connection between gratitude and heart health, we will explore the evidence supporting a gratitude journaling practice and how its incorporation into the daily routine can truly lead to a happier heart.

The heart plays a central role in our overall health and well-being. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remain the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. However, research suggests that the practice of gratitude may have a positive impact on cardiovascular health, offering an alternative and non-pharmacologic strategy for promoting a healthy cardiovascular system.

The habitual act of intentionally reflecting upon the things for which we are grateful can clearly have a positive impact on both general and cardiovascular health. The practice of gratitude journaling is relatively simple and requires a very modest daily time commitment. To begin a gratitude practice, we suggest the following:

  1. Identify your “Journal”
    This can be a physical journal, a note on your phone or a word document on your computer. Whatever you choose, stay consistent!
  2. Commit to a specific time of day
    This will help to keep you consistent. This can be a lovely way to start your day with a cup of coffee or a nice way to reflect before bedtime.
  3. Decreased anxiety
    Several studies have demonstrated improvement in anxiety symptoms when individuals participated in a gratitude practice.
  4. Decide how many things you are going to record each day
    We suggest starting with three. These can be big things such as “the love of my wife,” or smaller such as “cream in my coffee.”
  5. Be as specific as possible
    Being vague in your gratitude list makes it harder to continue the practice. Listing very specific things for which you are grateful can enhance the impact of the practice. For instance, “the smell of ground coffee as I walked down the stairs this morning” is more specific than “coffee.”

Gratitude journaling, the practice of routinely recording the specific things in life one is thankful for, has recently been the focus of several studies investigating the effects of gratitude on mental and physical health. Findings of these studies include:

  1. Decreased inflammation
    The Journal of Complementary Medicine published a study in 2022 reporting a correlation between a gratitude practice and reduction in levels of hsCRP. Additionally, a review in the Journal of Positive Psychology reported the same findings in 2020
  2. Improved heart rate variability
    The same study that demonstrated improvement in hsCRP, published in The Journal of Complementary Medicine, also found an association between gratitude journaling and heart rate variability, a key indicator of cardiovascular health. Similar results were reported in 2016 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine in a study evaluating the effect of gratitude on health outcomes in those living with Stage B heart failure.
  3. Decreased anxiety
    Several studies have demonstrated improvement in anxiety symptoms when individuals participated in a gratitude practice.
  4. Improved Adherence to Health Behaviors
    A 2020 Review published in the Journal of Positive Psychology reported results from 13 studies showing improvement in adherence to health behaviors in participants engaging in a regular gratitude journaling practice.
  5. Reduction in blood pressure
    A 2018 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine reported a correlation between gratitude journaling and decreased systolic blood pressure.

The intentional practice of daily gratitude through gratitude journaling may offer numerous benefits for cardiovascular health, including biomarkers and measurements that we monitor closely at The Prevention Center (hsCRP, blood pressure and levels of stress/anxiety). This simple addition to your health regimen can have a profound impact on both physical and psychological well-being and should be a consideration in any comprehensive plan for cardiovascular disease prevention and wellness.