Grumpy Old Men May End Up Shorter of Breath

August 31, 2006

BOSTON -- As angry men age, taking a deep breath for an exclamation of rage may grow ever more difficult, according to investigators here.

BOSTON, Aug. 31 -- As angry men age, taking a deep breath for an exclamation of rage may grow ever more difficult, according to investigators here.

Men with high levels of hostility had significantly poorer lung function at baseline and a greater deterioration of lung function over time compared with their cooler counterparts, Laura Kubzansky, Ph.D. M.P.H., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues, reported online in Thorax.

Previous research suggests that emotions affect inflammatory processes and chronic airway obstruction, Dr. Kubzansky and colleagues said. "However, the possible role of hostility in shaping patterns of change in pulmonary function has not been explored."

The study included 670 generally healthy older men (average age: 62) who were part of the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Hostility levels were assessed by the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale at baseline, and lung function was measured by spirometry about three times over an average of eight years of follow-up.

At baseline, men with high hostility scores had significantly lower measures of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) compared with men of medium/low hostility (an average of 88.9 versus 95.3; P

The study was also limited in that it included only older white men and the results therefore cannot be generalized to other patient groups, the authors said.

Despite its limitations, the paper is an important contribution to research on the links between emotion and health, said Paul Lehrer, Ph.D., of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in an editorial.

"Although a healthy ability to express a wide range of emotion is generally considered to be a sign of health and good adaptation, chronic anger may lead to chronic dysregulation," Dr. Lehrer said.

The exact pathways through which chronic anger contributes to chronic physical deterioration are not known, but "it is not hard to imagine how the wear and tear associated with chronic anger could produce chronic dysregulation and, ultimately, physical deterioration," he said.

However, the results should be interpreted with caution and with the understanding that the correlation found does not necessarily imply causation, he added.

"Personality, as well as physiology, can change over time, and deterioration in health and physical function can lead to negative emotion as well as vice versa, including for respiratory diseases," Dr. Lehrer concluded.