Body & Fitness

Out of character

How your personality can affect your health

Are you impulsive?Have you ever seen a cute animal in a pet shop, bought it then and there and taken it home? or chucked in your job on a whim?

As an act-first-think-later type, the disorder most likely to trouble you is stomach ulcers. Impulsive types are nearly two-and-a-half times as likely to get an ulcer as the rest of us. This could be because impulsive people produce higher than normal rates of acid when they’re stressed, which can trigger peptic ulcers.

Are you optimistic? Do you know in your heart that most things turn out for the best? If you’re the type that looks on the bright side of life, you may live an average of seven-and-a-half years longer than someone who has a gloomier outlook.

optimists are 55% less likely to die early from disease than pessimists – possibly because a positive view of life increases your will to live, and also lowers your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which cortisol can have negative effects on your health.

over the 30-year period of one research study, optimists had fewer disabilities and less chronic pain, maybe because their immune systems hadn’t been affected over the years by stress hormones.

Are you anxious? Do you find it hard to get to sleep at night because you’re so worried about everyday problems? It will come as no surprise to learn that people who worry so much that they suffer from an anxiety disorder are more likely to have high blood pressure. This may be caused by extra stress hormones.

Also, women with phobias such as a fear of heights have a greaterrisk of heart disease, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Are you aggressive? If you can’t drive more than 10km without getting angry with your fellow drivers, then this is your category and you’re at high risk of a range of serious health problems.

Research shows aggressive people have a greater chance of chronic inflammation throughout the body, a condition that’s linked to a number of diseases including heart disease (inflammation is involved in the build-up of fatty deposits in the inner lining of the arteries).

A Scottish study found people who have atherosclerosis – furred-up arteries – are more likely to have hostile personalities. It’s thought that aggressive people respond more strongly to stress, increasing their blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn causes extra wear and tear on their cardiovascular system.

Angry people also take longer to heal when damaged. Researchers created small wounds on the arms of healthy people and, after four days, only 30% of the angry patients’ wounds had healed, compared to 70% of placid patients’ wounds.

Are you shy? When the boss says, “Who did this great piece of work?” – and it was you – do you keep quiet anyway?

Bashful people are more vulnerable to viral infections and have fewer active protective lymph nodes than outgoing people. Lymph nodes are part of the immune system, helping to destroy infectious germs, such as viruses like the common cold.

Are you extroverted? Are you the life and soul of the party? And the bus queue as well? If you’re naturally outgoing, your risk of developing heart disease is reduced by around 15%. The scientists who discovered this also found that gregarious people are more likely to recover quickly from disease. This could be due to having fewer stress hormones in your body or being more confident about seeking medical help quickly.

However, another study suggests that extroverts may also be more likely to be obese. one possible reason for this is that outgoing people are more sociable, so they eat and drink more!

Are you neurotic? Do you worry and fret about whether you left the tap on, so you go home to check on it – twice?

Neurotic personalities tend to be more stressed than the rest of us and we all know how bad excess stress hormones can be. Being neurotic is associated with asthma, stomach ulcers, headaches, and heart disease.

If you tend to worry a lot, you may also be at risk of developing depression, which can make your body’s immune system less effective.

Are you conscientious? Are you the flatmate who always knows which night is rubbish night? This is the personality trait most associated with long life.

Being conscientious may be as important to your long-term health as good blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Because conscientious people avoid risk, they are more likely to keep up healthy behaviours such as exercising regularly and eating a nutritious diet.

What determines your personality?

We don’t yet know for sure, but it’s increasingly accepted that our early life experiences play a key role in forming our personalities.

Genetics also plays a big part as, according to scientists at the US National Cancer Insititute, most human traits are linked to genes. For instance, neurotic behaviour is associated with the gene that controls the amount of serotonin released in our bodies.

Serotonin – often dubbed “nature’s Prozac” – is a brain chemical that contributes to our moods and if we have low levels we are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Related stories