When it comes to your health, a good cry may be better for you than a clenched fist. That’s because anger can lead to more health risks in older people than sadness, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.
The study appeared in the APA’s journal, Psychology and Aging, and focused on the effects of anger and sadness on inflammation, a condition linked to chronic health issues.
Inflammation is often a healthy immune response to certain triggers in the body such as infection or tissue damage, but can also be harmful if it becomes chronic or pervasive and can potentially lead to heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.
To perform the study, researchers at Concordia University divided a group of 226 older adults into two groups: one group ages 59 to 79, and the other group ages 80 to 93.
Over the course of one week, both groups took daily surveys in which they were asked how sad or angry they felt, while also responding to questions concerning whether any age-related chronic illnesses affected them.
Blood samples from the participants were analyzed, and in comparing the surveys with the blood data, the researchers found a connection: Experiencing anger daily was associated with higher levels of inflammation — but only in adults in the over-80 group.
Sadness, on the other hand, was not connected to inflammation or chronic illness at any age.
Lead researcher Meaghan A. Barlow from Concordia University said she believes that sadness may be part of a healthy coping process for older people forced to slowly let go of declining physical and cognitive abilities.
Barlow told Psych Central that anger can be used in a positive way. “Anger is an energizing emotion that can help motivate people to pursue life goals.”
But she goes on to warn: “Anger becomes problematic for adults once they reach 80 years old, however, because that is when many experience irreversible losses and some of life’s pleasures fall out of reach.”
So next time you (or an older relative) is deciding on what to watch, go for the tear-jerker rom-com over the documentary about corporate greed. It just might save your life.