By Margarita Nahapetyan
Medical experts have established that there is a direct link between our personality and better health. According to a new study, the ability of the body to resist inflammatory diseases that are associated with stress, is not just a matter of our genetics, race, or gender, but a matter of involvement in activities that promote happiness.
The investigators at the University of Rochester Medical Center, found that extroverts, and, in particular those who happily engage themselves in their day-to-day lives, have significantly lower blood levels of an inflammatory chemical that leads to the clogging of arteries, heart attacks and strokes. "Our study took the important first step of finding a strong association between one part of extroversion and a specific, stress-related, inflammatory chemical," said Benjamin Chapman, a principal author of the study and an assistant professor within the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research, part of the university's psychiatry department.
According to landmark studies that have been carried out in the early 90s, extroversion is a trait of personality which consists of three parts: a tendency to think in a happy way, a desire to be around other people and "dispositional energy," a sense of innate strength or active engagement with life. Other dimensions of extroversion, such as seeking for sensation, for instance, have also been proposed.
For the purposes of the current study, the investigators followed 103 adults with the ages older than 40 years, examining their personalities and degree of extroversion by means of a standard psychological test and measuring levels of interleukin-6 in their blood. The test included the NEO Five-Factor Inventory, an instrument based on the Five Factor Model. The results revealed that those participants who were heartily engaged in life activities, demonstrated measurably lower amounts of the inflammatory chemical. The study found that this tendency was particularly observed in older women.
In spite of the fact that the study was able to show that extroversion and active involvement in life are associated with lower levels of inflammatory hormones, it may be really hard to tell which one comes in the first place. Dr. Chapman warned that the researchers have not discovered yet whether low inflammation is a result of a dispositional activity, or inflammation itself is taking its toll on people by decreasing these personality tendencies. Therefore, he warned to be careful when it comes to an interpretation of this association.
The study authors are not sure how to stimulate people to change their lifestyle or nature. Physical activity may be a piece of the solution, and has been found to lower stress hormones, especially with aging. Dr. Chapman says that beyond exercise, some individuals just have this innate energy that makes them enthusiastically involved in life. As a result, their bodies have an increased ability to withstand the physical effects of stress.
The experts do not lose hope to find specific therapies, such as the ones that are being used to treat depression, and to help people find ways to increase active engagement in life, or 'life force'. Engaging in life can keep people much happier and healthier, by aiding the body to resist the inevitability of strain. "We could all find something in life we enjoy doing," they concluded.
A study is published in the July issue of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.