Does your character tell you anything about your health? What does it mean for your wellbeing if you're an extrovert, bashful, highly-strung or everyone's favourite social butterfly?
While experts obviously can't say with any certainty that individual personality traits will lead to specific illnesses or conditions, there is evidence to suggest that some characteristics can influence your overall health and wellbeing. Read on for our guide to see where you fit in...
Hostile, aggressive behaviour is one of the least healthy personality traits to have. In a study of 448 women attending breast-screening centres, researchers at the Oncological Hospital of Kifissia, Athens, found hostile types were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Another study of 61 men with colon cancer at the Creighton University School of Medicine, Nebraska, found the same increased risk. It’s thought that hostility and anger dampens the effectiveness of the immune system, possibly making it more susceptible to disease. Being angry also brings a 50 per cent increase in the chance of poor heart health, say researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Angry people respond more quickly and strongly to stress, mentally and physiologically, increasing blood pressure and heart rate — causing more wear and tear to the cardiovascular system.
- The extrovert
An outgoing personality means a person is more likely to be overweight, according to researchers at Tohoku University in Japan who analysed the link between personality and the Body Mass Index (BMI).
The study of 30,000 people aged between 40 and 64 asked participants for their height and weight before giving them a personality test. The results were striking, showing that outgoing women were 1.53 times more likely to be overweight (a BMI of over 25) than their more retiring counterparts. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.
Men who are more like women — sympathetic and compassionate — have lower stress levels and are less likely to have heart attacks, found research at Glasgow University. In the study men were given a ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ score based on traits such as leadership ability, forcefulness, aggression and risk-taking for the former, and sympathy, affection, compassion and sensitivity to the needs of others for the latter.
Researchers found a man’s likelihood of suffering from chronic heart disease markedly decreased in line with his femininity score. They said being in touch with their feelings meant these ‘new men’ were more able to talk about their emotions and get help — including going to the doctor.
- The anxious type
At the other end of the scale, the same study which pinpointed the link between extroverts and weight gain showed that worriers tend to be thin. In fact, those ranked as having anxious personalities were twice as likely as the least anxious respondents to be underweight, with a BMI of less than 18.5. If only nervousness was something we could bottle...
- The relaxed one
It's no surprise that people who are more relaxed and less stressed than their counterparts are generally happy and healthy, but did you know that they could also be less likely to develop dementia? A study of 506 people aged 78 or over, carried out at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, found that participants who were socially isolated but relaxed had a 50% lower risk of developing dementia compared with people who were isolated but prone to distress.
Study leader, Dr Hui-Xin Wang, said: "Studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain... possibly leading to dementia, but our findings suggest that having a relaxed and outgoing personality... may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further."
They may always have a half-full view of life, but optimists are also more likely to be overweight. Researchers from Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, and other centres, assessed obese men and women undergoing a six-month weight-loss programme involving counselling, nutrition and exercise.
The researchers found that those who were most positive lost the least weight. It’s thought that looking on the bright side led to patients not caring about their weight problem and always giving into temptation.
Similarly, their confidence about their ability to defeat life’s difficulties and willingness, therefore, to take more risks might explain why happy types are also more likely to die young, found a major University of California study. Psychologist Dr Howard S. Friedman analysed data on more than 1,500 children from the age of ten and followed them into adulthood.
He said: ‘Those who had the best sense of humour as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful.’ Another study at Stanford University found that most cheerful kids grew up to smoke, drink more and have riskier hobbies.
- The mingler
If you're a social butterfly, you would be forgiven for thinking that your constant flitting between engagements would make you more adept at dealing with a few hours' sleep a night. Not so, according to one piece of research by the US army.
The Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute found that people who mingled for up to 12 hours a day are more likely to suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation. Testing a group of volunteers aged between 18 and 39, the scientists discovered that those classed as introverts found it easier to stay awake and showed faster reactions.
As you’d expect, people who are conscientious reap enormous benefits healthwise, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow.
They are less likely to develop all kinds of illnesses: diabetes, hernia, bone problems, sciatica, stroke — even Alzheimer’s. The review of more than 190 studies showed that conscientious people consistently carry out more health-promoting behaviours, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet.
- The shy one
That bashful side to your personality could be doing more harm than just making it harder to find a boyfriend - it could also increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.A 30-year study by Northwestern University in Chicago suggested that shy types are 50% more likely to die from a cardiovascular illness, perhaps because these types of people find new situations more stressful or because a shy personality could herald the introduction of unhealthy changes in lifestyle and behaviour.
- The hostile type
Are you combative, aggressive and impatient? We hope not, for your sake. Hostility can lead to a host of health problems, according to recent research. A study of 448 women at the Oncological Hospital of Kifissia in Athens found that these traits can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.
And because hostile people tend to smoke more and exercise less, they're more likely to be more overweight in middle age and have higher cholesterol and blood pressure, according to the department of behavioural medicine at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.
- The emotional wreck
Overly dependent types need to tread carefully, and not just for the sake of their relationship status. Researchers at the Paris Descartes University in France claim that clingy and emotionally unstable people are five times more likely to suffer from a stomach ulcer. Like their hostile cousins, the emotional wreck is more likely to smoke, drink, have a poor diet and exercise less, all of which combine to increase rates of acid production in the stomach.
- The nice but dim type
A low IQ in childhood may be linked to the development of dementia later in life, according to one piece of research carried out in Scotland. Though it is not the case that everyone with low intelligence will develop dementia, the study based on school records of children born in 1921 did find that those with the lowest scores in IQ tests were significantly more likely to develop the condition. The scientists involved in the study said this highlights the importance of encouraging people to develop their children's brains as best they can, including by nutritional needs.
- The good-humoured one
Laughter really is the best medicine, according to recent scientific research. A study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that having a good sense of humour helps to keep people healthy and increases their chances of reaching retirement age.
The team of researchers examined the medical records of 53,500 individuals and concluded that a good sense of humour has a beneficial impact on mental health and social life, which in turn reduces risk of stress and depression. Other research suggests that laughing a lot can increase the body's production of antibodies, boosting the immune system in the process.
- The optimist
Maintaining a 'glass-half-full' attitude to life "heavily influences physical and mental health", according to a study published in the journal Clinical and Epidemiology in Mental Health.
The rate of heart-related deaths among the 500 males featured in the study was 50% lower among optimists than with pessimists. Experts believe this is because optimists tend to have a higher quality of life and are more resilient when it comes to dealing with stress, whereas pessimistic characters are more prone to anxiety and mental health disorders.
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