Women practicing self-compassion at lower risk of cardiovascular disease

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Although we often see reminders of how important it is to be kind to others, sometimes the best person to lend some compassion to is yourself. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh report that middle-aged women who regularly practice self-compassion appear to be at a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

This trend even held up among a group of middle-aged women regardless of additional risk factors considered warning signs for cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cholesterol levels. If a woman was kind to herself, study authors say, she was less likely to develop heart disease.

“A lot of research has been focused on studying how stress and other negative factors may impact cardiovascular health, but the impact of positive psychological factors, such as self-compassion, is far less known,” says Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, epidemiology, and psychology, in a media release.

It would be an understatement to say life nowadays is stressful. As such, countless adults are turning to various practices that emphasize mindfulness and self-compassion to relax and unwind. Similarly, more and more counselors and therapists are suggesting that their patients practice more self-compassion to deal with chronic stress. Such techniques show an ability to help with anxiety, depression, and irritability, according to previous studies.

A little TLC leads to better artery health

However, the effect of self-compassion on physiological bodily processes is much more unclear. In an effort to produce a clear answer to that question, researchers gathered together nearly 200 women between the ages of 45 and 67. Each subject filled out a short survey asking how often they felt inadequate, felt disappointed by their self-perceived flaws, and afforded themselves some much needed caring and tenderness during tough life moments and situations.

Next, each woman underwent a standard diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries, which are the major vessels in the neck that carry blood from the heart to the brain.

Women who scored high on self-compassion ratings had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque buildup than other women who practiced self-compassion less often. Both of those conditions have a link to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. The findings remained consistent even after accounting for other factors such as depressive feelings, smoking habits, and physical activity levels.

“These findings underscore the importance of practicing kindness and compassion, particularly towards yourself,” Prof. Thurston concludes. “We are all living through extraordinarily stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for both our mental and physical health.”

The study is published in the journal Health Psychology.

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