Mindful self compassion training linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women, new study finds

A new study in Health Psychology on December 16 found that women practicing mindful self-compassion training have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

A new study has found that women who follow mindful self compassion training have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The study was published on December 16 in the journal Health Psychology.

It was written by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.

It found that middle-aged women who indicated that they practice mindful self-compassion were less likely than average to have cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Mindful self compassion training is still under-researched

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, are gaining popularity among U.S. adults.

Exhausted from a barrage of stressors at work and in their personal lives, people are increasingly choosing to turn inward to help manage their moods and emotions.

But not much is known about how approaches such as mindful self compassion and self-kindness actually relate to health outcomes.

“A lot of research has been focused on studying how stress and other negative factors may impact cardiovascular health,” said the study’s lead author Rebecca Thurston, “but the impact of positive psychological factors, such as self-compassion, is far less known/”

Women have been experiencing more stress around the world

Stressors have recently been increasing, especially for women.

Research from various groups across the world demonstrates that women are particularly affected by the ongoing global health crisis.

After all, women are more likely to have to care for children and older relatives, and are often the ones to care for other adults, too, in part because women compose much of the U.S. nursing workforce.

Practicing mindful self compassion is a tool that counselors and clinical psychologists often suggest to clients who are dealing with chronic stress.

These techniques have been shown to be effective for managing anxiety, irritability, and even mild depression.

The physical effects of mindful self compassion training

But does mindful self-compassion have any real physiological effects on the body?

Thurston and her colleagues sought to answer that question by enrolling almost 200 women between the ages of 45 and 67.

These women completed a short questionnaire asking them to rate how often they experience feelings of inadequacy, whether they often feel disappointed by their self-perceived flaws, or if they grant themselves caring and tenderness during difficult life moments.

The women also received a standard diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries, which are major vessels in the neck that carry the blood from the heart to the brain.

More self-compassion linked to lower cardiovascular risk

The scientists found that women who scored higher on the self-compassion scale had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque buildup than those with lower levels of self-compassion.

These indicators have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases – such as heart attacks and strokes – years later.

The results persisted even when the researchers controlled for behaviors and other psychological factors that might influence cardiovascular disease outcomes, such as physical activity, smoking, and depressive symptoms.

“These findings underscore the importance of practicing kindness and compassion, particularly towards yourself,” said Thurston.

“We are all living through extraordinarily stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for both our mental and physical health,” she said.

Study: “Self-compassion and subclinical cardiovascular disease among midlife women”
Authors: Thurston, R. C., Fritz, M. M., Chang, Y., Barinas Mitchell, E., & Maki, P. M.
Published in: Health Psychology
Publication date: December 16, 2021
DOI: 10.1037/hea0001137
Photo: by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash