What Does Your Personality Say About Your Health?

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People who are outgoing, hardworking, organised and relaxed don’t only shine at parties and job interviews. They’re also less likely to suffer diseases like stroke, arthritis, and heart conditions, according to a new study. And those who are anxious, moody, irritable, and prone to sadness are more likely to be diagnosed with such an illness. U.S. researchers found a strong link between personality types and disease, in the first long-term study of its kind.

They found that being highly conscientious, extroverted, open, agreeable and not very neurotic was associated with better health and lack of disease. This could be because these types of people are more likely to eat healthily, take exercise, suffer less stress and communicate better with physicians, they said.

On the other hand, people who are highly neurotic – meaning they are anxious, worrisome, have mood swings and are often sad – are more likely to be diagnosed with a disease.

This supports previous research found that neurotic people die earlier, although why this happens is not fully understood. One theory is that they deal less effectively with stress, so their bodies release more of the hormone cortisol, which in large amounts can damage the immune system and organs, including the brain.

Through a questionnaire testing participants’ personality, researchers scored people on the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. These are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism.

Four years later, they were asked if they had been diagnosed with a disease by a doctor.

The participants were scored on a scale of one to four on each of the personality traits.

Four meant their personality strongly displayed that trait, so a person who was scored four on the extroversion scale would be very talkative and outgoing, whereas a person who was scored one would be introverted and less talkative.

Below, they describe the differences in health for each trait:

CONSCIENTIOUSNESS

Conscientious people are hardworking, reliable, dutiful and able to control their impulses. They like things to be planned and like to achieve their goals. The researchers found that being a conscientious person can protect against the onset of disease.

Researchers found a one unit increase on the 1 – 4 scale for conscientiousness decreases the odds of a stroke diagnosis by 37 per cent.

It also decreases the odds of a high blood pressure diagnosis by 27 per cent, arthritis by 23 per cent and diabetes by 20 per cent.

One of the researchers, Professor Joshua Jackson, told MailOnline they did not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but added: ‘Because it was a new diagnosis of diabetes, and everyone is an older adult, I would guess that most were type 2.’

Type 1 diabetes is caused when the body’s immune system incorrectly targets and kill the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body becomes less able to respond to insulin. It is usually diagnosed in over 30 year-olds and is often associated with excess body weight.

The link between conscientiousness and health could be because people who are conscientious are likely to carry out healthy behaviours like healthy eating and exercise, which are important for preventing diseases like stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes, researchers said.

OPENNESS

Open people are curious, imaginative, like playing with new ideas, and have a broad range of interests.

A one unit increase on the 1 – 4 scale for openness decreased the odds of a stroke diagnosis by 31 per cent, heart conditions by 17 per cent, high blood pressure by 29 per cent, and arthritis by 21 per cent.

Being more open might help a person be more creative in relieving stress and may improve their health through better communication with physicians.

EXTROVERSION

Extroverted people are positive, assertive, talkative, social and like to be the life and soul of a party. Researchers found a one unit increase in extroversion decreased only the odds of a high blood pressure diagnosis by 26 per cent.

AGREEABLENESS

Agreeable individuals value getting along with other people. They tend to be considerate, kind, generous, helpful, trusting and trustworthy, and willing to compromise.

A one unit increase in agreeableness decreased the odds of an arthritis diagnosis by 21 per cent. Professor Joshua Jackson, told MailOnline previous studies have not linked the trait of agreeableness to health, so he would want to replicate these findings in future studies to be sure of the link.

One theory, however, is that the social connections well-fostered by agreeable people protect them against disease.

He said: ‘Agreeable individuals are warm, caring. They make deeper connections. Social connections are associated with good health, there’s lots of research on that. That could be the reason why agreeableness is protective.

NEUROTICISM 

Neurotic people are sensitive and nervous, and often experience anger, anxiety, or depression.

Neurotic people who are constantly worrying are more likely to develop a disease to worry about in later life, the study found.

A one unit increase in neuroticism increased the odds of being diagnosed with a heart condition by 24 per cent, lung disease by 29 per cent, high blood pressure by 37 per cent, and arthritis by 25 per cent.

THE STUDY

As part of the study, researchers used data on 6,904 Americans, whose median age was 68, who had visited a doctor or clinic within the previous two years.

They had participated in the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study.

In order to score their personality traits, participants were given a list of adjectives with a range of words from ‘outgoing’, ‘dominant’, ‘friendly’ and ‘sophisticated’.

They were asked to report how well each word described them, and based on their answers they were scored on a scale between one and four for each ‘Big Personality’ trait.

Four years later, they were contacted asked whether they had been diagnosed by a doctor with any serious illness from a given list. The study found women were more extroverted, agreeable, conscientious, and neurotic than men.

Older people were less extroverted, less conscientious, less neurotic, and less open than younger adults. Married individuals were more conscientious, open and emotionally stable than people who were not married.

Interestingly, personality traits did not predict the diagnosis of cancer, one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It was not possible to infer from the data the increased risk of being diagnosed with a disease a person rated highly with any individual trait (scoring four on the scale) is than someone rated as a person rated lowly on that trait (scored one on the scale), the researcher said.

Professor Jackson, of Washington University in St Louis, U.S., told MailOnline: ‘This study was important because it demonstrated that one’s personality predicts and is associated with important diseases.

The development of those diseases are really due to the way that you behave, and think and see the world.

‘The way that you approach the world, see the world, interact with the world, affects your health.’ When asked if it was possible for people to change their personality in order to protect themselves against disease, he said it would be better to study why certain characteristics of personality are protective.

He said: ‘Other research has shown that personality is not set in stone, we do change it subtly.

‘It’s possible, over the course of 20 years, to see naturally occurring change.

‘Right now we don’t know how to change someone’s personality to change their health. But we can look at the reasons why people with certain characteristics have better health, and people without those characteristics could replicate those mechanisms.’

According to a recent study, our personality not only affects how we relate to life, the friends we have and what job we’re suited to, but also our health.

The study, conducted jointly by the University of Nottingham and the University of California in the US, looked at specific personality types including conscientious, extrovert, neurotic and agreeable. It suggested that some personalities could bebetter able to fight infection and illness, while others may be more prone to health issues such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes.

It’s unclear how much of this is due to our genes or personality type influencing our lifestyle behaviour. But an understanding of how our personalities shape our health could help change our outcomes.

“While it’s difficult to change your personality, knowing how it affects your behaviour could help you to adopt a healthier lifestyle and influence your health for the better,” explains Ann Macaskill, professor of health psychology at Sheffield Hallam University.

So here’s our guide to your health personality and how to avoid the pitfalls…

Life and soul/extrovert

Personality protection:

If you’re always out and about, you’re probably good at fighting infection, meaning you are less likely to catch colds and flu and tend to recover from infection and injuries quicker.

The research at the University of Nottingham studied two groups of genes active in white blood cells and found that the genes that trigger inflammation were 17 per cent more active in this personality type.

Risks:

Late nights, drinking and potentially poor eating habits all take their toll on your health, leaving you at a greater risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. The very thing that makes you physically robust when younger – the genes that trigger inflammation – can affect the body’s long-term health. “Inflammation plays a role in chronic diseases due to an imbalance, too many pro-inflammatory chemicals and not enough anti-inflammatory ones,” says Moise Desvarieux, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Health tips:

Schedule a few days off each week from going out, and eat a diet rich in green leafy veg, seeds and berries, known for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Also start working on building a reflective habit. “Take five minutes out of your day for mindful movement, such as walking in an outdoor space,” says nutritionist Charlotte Watts, author of The De-Stress Effect (£12.99). “It will be hard at first, but building this habit will help to rewire the brain to not always seek an overstimulating environment with all its attendant health risks.”

People pleaser/agreeable

Personality protection:

If you frequently put others before yourself, avoid confrontation and accommodate others at all costs, you’re probably a people pleaser. You may not be very social or feel comfortable sharing your feelings and would rather spend a quiet night at home as opposed to going out with a group. On the plus side, health experts believe that the desire to please means that you are more likely to follow a doctor’s medical advice, which may protect you from some short-term illnesses.

Risks:

 Being eager to please others means that you have a tendency to be at risk of weight- and stress-related diseases, including obesity and diabetes. A 2012 study at Case Western Reserve University found that if a friend is having dessert, a pleaser will match the amount of food the friend eats so the friend won’t feel uncomfortable. And trying to please others means your own wellness takes a back seat and creates stress, leaving you at risk of cold and flu infections.

Health tips:

Focus on a self-care routine, such as taking an Epsom salts bath three times per week, recommends Charlotte Watts. Epsom salts containing magnesium, which helps to boost the feel-good hormone serotonin to create calm and relaxation. Most of all, start saying no.

“The most positive effect on your health will come from learning to say no,” says Watts. “Say no to something once a week, without having to justify it, and it will gradually become easier so you free up time for yourself.”

JOGN HOLCROFT C/O THE ART MARKET

Sensible/conscientious

Personality protection:

 Are you conscientious at work and in relationships? It turns out that this may not just bring you good karma but good health, too. A study of 1,000 people at America’s Duke University showed that people who were conscientious at 26 were in better health 12 years later compared to those who were less sensible. Among the least conscientious, 45 per cent developed multiple health problems by 38, compared to 18 per cent of the most conscientious group.

“These personalities tend to be better able to control their impulses and are more likely to follow healthy lifestyles,” says Ann Macaskill. This helps guard against health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.

Risks:

Digestive disorders and chronic disease such as cancers are all potential risks for this personality due to their high-achieving natures. “Conscientious personalities have been shown to have a tendency to ill health because they are high achievers and very focused on work, which can be toxic to health if care is not taken,” says Macaskill.

Health tips:

 Introduce meditation into your day, which studies have shown helps reduce levels of inflammatory genes. “Start with just five minutes a day, which will open the door to creating a new habit and healthy benefits,” recommends Ariana Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post website and author of Thrive (£8.99). “Also, turn off digital devices at night to help you to disconnect from work and regain perspective.” A Harvard University study also shows that eating foods rich in magnesium, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and oily fish, can help cut the risk of obesity by up to 33 per cent and help combat the risks of digestive disorders.

Worrier/neurotic

Personality protection:

If you’re a real worrier, this may not be as bad for your health as you might think. Research shows that there are two types: the healthy worrier and the obsessive.

Research by the University of Rochester Medical Center suggested that the first type are less at risk of chronic health conditions including stroke, asthma, arthritis and some forms of cancer. This is because they are more likely to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviour, exercise regularly and eat healthily.

Risks:

Mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and loneliness, are all linked to obsessive worriers, who can have a tendency to “self-medicate” with unhealthy lifestyle habits including drink, overeating and drug taking.

Health tips:

Don’t try to pretend that you’re not a worrier, but work towards ensuring you don’t allow it to rule your life, advises Lee Crutchley, author of How To Be Happy (Or At Least Less Sad) (£8.99).

“Allocate a 20-minute period each day to be your ‘worry window’ and if you start worrying about anything outside this time, make a note to focus on it later,” he says. “It may sound silly but if you make a conscious and sustained effort to squeeze all of your worries into one window each day, you’ll see that it is liberating and prevents worry from ruling your life.”

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