Why Hostility Can Harm a Woman’s Heart Health

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Women who show high levels of hostility could be setting themselves up for poor heart health, a study shows.

Researchers came to this conclusion by studying something called heart rate variability, a measurement of how time varies between heart beats. Women with higher hostility levels had a lower heart rate variability on average, compared to women with lower levels of hostility.

Flickr Image Courtesy: Bring Back Words, CC BY-SA 2.0
Flickr Image Courtesy: Bring Back Words, CC BY-SA 2.0

Higher heart rate variability is a good thing, according to lead author of the study, Dr. Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher. It shows the area of the nervous system that speeds up the heart rate and slows it down are working in balance. Research shows that women suffering from depression have a lower heart rate variability.

In the study, researchers examined data on more that 2,600 women who took part in the Myocardial Ischemia and Migraine Study (MIMS). On average, the women who took part were 63 years old.

The women had their heart’s electrical activity measured on an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) test. This data was used to calculate their heart rate variability. This information was then measured against information acquired on how hostile and optimistic the women were, based on info from a questionnaire.

It’s believed that hostility increases the part of the nervous system that revs up the fight or flight response. Women who were more hostile in the study were also more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, compared to those who were less hostile, said Salmoirago-Blotcher, who is also a research scientist at the Miriam Hospital Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine.

The study also showed more optimistic women had fewer heart disease risks and got more physical activity than those who were less optimistic. Salmoirago-Blotcher also said physical activity was strongly associated with greater heart rate variability.

Researchers did not adjust to study to see how depression and physical activity levels may have influenced the findings. The study, which was still undergoing additional research, had not been published in a peer-review journal.

Ronke Idowu Reeves
Ronke Idowu Reeves is a writer and journalist who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Her news and entertainment stories have appeared on WABC-TV-New York, Fox News Channel, VH1, BET.com plus in Sundance Film Festival’s Sundance Daily Insider and People Magazine.