by Christine Fisher
Are you a yeller? A percolator of ideas? A wallflower or perhaps a people magnet? Personality affects the way people react and respond to all kinds of situations. It also affects their approach to health.
For example, a diabetic will need to check their sugar levels regularly, diligently take medication, and watch what they eat. “A meticulous personality will likely take this challenge and manage their health very well. Someone more laid-back may not be as attentive and have more physical problems,” says Dr. Kelly Fuqua, family medicine physician with Calcasieu Family Physicians of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital.
While everyone is unique, most personality traits can be combined into the following areas:
Optimistic Vs Pessimistic
The heart of an optimist is generally stronger than that of a pessimist. Out of 97,000 women of postmenopausal age, those who scored higher for optimism had a nine percent lower risk for developing heart disease and a 14 percent lower risk of dying from all causes than women who scored lowest for optimism. According to a study by the Women’s Health Initiative, women with a high degree of hostility and cynicism were 16 percent more likely to die than their more optimistic counterparts. All the women were free from heart disease at the beginning of the study.
Pessimists may see these results and feel even more hopeless. “In cases like this, it’s important to point out that everyone has challenges in life, even optimists,” Dr. Fuqua says. “It’s how we deal with them that makes the difference.”
Attitude has an impact when it comes to heart disease. “A person’s outlook and how they handle challenges play a significant role in their predisposition to heart disease,” Dr. Fuqua explains.
Extrovert Vs Introvert
People who enjoy being in large groups and the center of attention are extroverts. They gain energy from being with others and typically say whatever they are feeling. Usually looking at the broad picture, rather than fine details, they tend to brush aside health warning signs until they become too big to ignore. “If they do see their doctor, it’s typically not for a checkup; it’s for something like the flu, a backache, or pulled muscle,” explains Dr. Fuqua. “Getting regular screenings, such as a cholesterol check, seldom enters their mind. They may think about it and say they’ll get to that one day. In some cases, a heart attack, or other significant health event, is their first wake-up call that they need to pay attention to their health.”
Extroverts are good about making time to exercise, as long as it’s with a friend or in a group, because the social setting appeals to them. “While this investment in their health is great, it doesn’t completely off-set their tendency to ignore health screenings, elevated cholesterol or poor health habits. Overall, though, extroverts tend to be healthy. Their strong social connections are great for reducing stress caused by their busy schedules,” Dr. Fuqua says.
Because of an introvert’s tendency to keep their emotions to themselves, they may have more trouble with health problems like arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and headaches. “They internalize their feelings rather than share them. Often, this erodes the immune system and triggers the production of stress-related hormones,” Dr. Fuqua noted.
Introverts do well with routines, so regular check-ups fit them nicely. They thrive on researching topics of interest, so they’re usually up to date with the latest information on health concerns they’re facing and diligently manage them.
Perfectionist Vs Easy-Going
The way a perfectionist strives to do their best in all aspects of life may lead some to think it’s the most healthy of personalities, but in some cases, it can backfire. On the positive side, they tend to set high standards for themselves and work hard to achieve their goals; conversely, the high amount of pressure they put on themselves could lead to physical problems.
A group of Canadian psychology professors studied the lifespan of 450 adults aged 65 and older with no reported chronic diseases for six years. Those with high perfectionism scores had a 51 percent increased risk of death compared to those with more laid-back scores. The psychologists reasoned that if perfectionism showed this associated risk of death in a healthy population, it might have an even greater impact on those with a chronic disease, which would put their bodies under even more stress.
Those with a more laid-back personality take an easy approach to life. They don’t usually get angry, hold grudges, or plot revenge; but their lassaiz-faire attitude could put them in harm’s way if they think health concerns could never happen to them. “Lifestyle choices have the most impact on health, so the laid-back types should pay attention to their habits,” Dr. Fuqua explains. “Genetics make up a small portion of health risks; the larger piece of the pie comes from behaviors such as exercise, nutrition, coping with stress levels, and not smoking.”
In the end, an optimistic, easy-going extrovert may fare well when it comes to their health, but if that’s not you, don’t force the issue. Personalities are pretty much ingrained from the get-go. Recognize the strengths and weaknesses within your personality type and strike a balance in your approach to health.