Tweet Happy Thoughts: Study finds link between negative tweets and heart disease

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By Graziella Steele

Tweeting isn’t just a mode of self-expression. It may also be a good indicator of whether the tweeter is at risk of heart disease, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

Many factors can contribute to heart disease—from poor lifestyle choices, such as lack of physical activity, to socioeconomic conditions (poverty) and psychological impacts (stress).

The researchers found that Twitter and other social media can be used to capture the psychological characteristics of a person or a community. The study found that emotions, such as anger, fatigue and stress, expressed through tweets were associated with a higher risk of heart disease while positive emotions and excitement were linked to a lower risk of coronary distress.

Emotions and our mindset have s significant effect on our health. Dr. Sheila Khianey, a cardiologist at Novant Health UVA Health System, Prince William Cardiology, in Manassas, said she believes that a positive or negative mental state is the “single most important factor that shapes our health.”

Her observation is based on some of mankind’s most primitive instincts and responses to fear and anger. The “fight or flight” response elevates the body’s stress levels during a dangerous situation, but they subside when the threat has passed.

“With constant negativity, this response stays on, and it spirals into pathology,” Khianey said. “Our heart rates stay higher. The blood vessels in our bodies constrict. Our blood pressure rises, and people develop medical conditions, such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke.”

In their analysis, the researchers looked at the language used in 148 million public tweets over two years from 1,347 counties across the country. They compared that information to public health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for each county, including information on deaths from heart disease and rates of smoking, obesity and hypertension.

Upon comparing the information, researchers found the models based on the tweets were an accurate indicator of heart disease death rates recorded by the CDC.

While researchers admitted that the angry tweeters were not necessarily the people dying of heart disease, they said if your neighbors are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease.

Perhaps the takeaway is to engage in social media wisely. Stay away from people who post emotionally negative tweets or stories and follow those who post while expressing hope and optimism.


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