Keeping your temper in check may do more than help your heart—it may also prolong lung health.

New research shows that long-term hostility could damage lung function and speed the natural age-related decline in lung power.

"Psychological stress and distress and negative emotional states like hostility can disrupt immune function and trigger inflammatory processes. much like allergens in the environment: says study author Dr. Rosalind Wright, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Hostility and anger is already linked with many other health problems in older adults, including heart disease and asthma. But until now, there had been little specific research into how these types of psychological factors affect lung function decline.

The Findings

To see if there was any link between anger and hostility and the way the lungs work. Wright and her colleagues examined 670 men aged 45 to 86.

Levels of hostility, measured at the beginning of the study, averaged 18.5 points on a standard scale, with values ranging from seven to 37 points. Lung function appeared to decline as anger numbers rose, and vice-versa.

The association held steady even after adjust-ing for smoking, educational attainment and other factors.

The Theory

How might anger be linked to lung function) "A person who tends to be more hostile might be more likely to adopt negative coping strategies, such as smoking," says Wright "But that didn't seem to be the case. We controlled for smoking"

Interestingly, those with higher levels of hostility also had a faster rate of natural decline in lung function, say researchers.

Because all of the participants were older, white men, the results cannot be extrapolated to other groups. The findings also can't be taken to suggest that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between hostility and anger and declining lung function, add the scientists. For now, they are noting an association.

Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association, says he's not surprised by Wright's study. "There's lots of biological plausibility, lots of mechanisms by which this could take place."

The bottom line: Wright hopes her findings provide more incentive for people to manage their mood for better health.

"Psychological stress seems to trigger similar types of biological disruptions; she says. “When you have something throwing the system out of balance, that might put you in a state of chronic inflammation. If you raise someone's aware-ness about their emotional state or personality disposition or level of stress, they can modify their lifestyle or use interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy."

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