People who deal effectively with stress may enjoy not only greater peace of mind and spirit but also better physical health. In the Normative Aging Study, older Caucasian men with more effective skills for coping with stress had higher levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol than their more hostile or socially isolated peers.

Investigators from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Oregon State University and the VA Boston Healthcare System studied the relationships among hostility, stress, coping processes and cholesterol levels in 716 men, primarily Caucasian, with an average age of 65. Each participant completed a questionnaire and rated how often he used 26 coping strategies (e.g., developing a specific action plan) to deal with problematic situations. More hostile individuals were more likely to view problems as stressful and respond with negative behavior, self-blame and isolation. Men who used coping strategies to deal with difficulties were more likely to make a positive action plan and pursue it.

Fasting blood samples from the subjects showed that men with more positive attitudes and behaviors had higher levels of HDL cholesterol and lower levels of triglycerides. Lead investigator, Loriena A. Yancura, PhD, assistant professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa, expressed surprise that no impact was found on LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. She offered one possible explanation: “We asked people about their coping strategies in response to a problem in the past month and looked at a blood sample taken at the time we asked them. It is possible that changes in LDL might have been
apparent in a lab setting or if we had looked at longitudinal relationships among hostility, coping, and lipids.” More research was recommended.