Being angry can be very harmful to physical health in old age, research finds.
Anger is linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body.
Increased inflammation is associated with chronic conditions such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease.
Sadness, meanwhile, is surprisingly not linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body.
Ms Meaghan A. Barlow, the study’s first author, said:
“As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility and they can become angry.
Our study showed that anger can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, whereas sadness did not.”
The study included 226 older adults who were asked how angry or sad they felt over a one-week period.
Levels of inflammation were tested using blood samples.
Dr Carsten Wrosch, study co-author, explained the results:
“We found that experiencing anger daily was related to higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness for people 80 years old and older, but not for younger seniors.
Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness.”
Sadness may be beneficial in the sense that it helps people disengage from activities they can no longer take part in, which is important for older people.
In comparison, anger is motivating and energising, explained Ms Barlow:
“Anger is an energizing emotion that can help motivate people to pursue life goals.
Younger seniors may be able to use that anger as fuel to overcome life’s challenges and emerging age-related losses and that can keep them healthier.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychology and Aging (Barlow et al., 2019).