Tweeting isn’t just a mode of self-expression. It may also
be a good indicator of whether the tweeter is at risk of heart disease,
according to a new
study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
Many factors can contribute to heart disease – from poor
lifestyle choices such as lack of physical activity to socio-economic
conditions (poverty) and psychological impacts (stress). The researchers found
that Twitter can also capture the psychological well-being of a person or a
The study found that emotions such as anger, fatigue and stress
expressed through tweets were associated with a higher risk of heart disease
while positive emotions and excitement were linked to a lower risk of coronary
Emotions and our mindset have an outsize effect on our
health. Dr. Sheila Khianey, a cardiologist at Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket MedicalCenter and Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center, said she believes that
a positive or negative mental state is the “single most important factor that
shapes our health.”
It’s based on some of mankind’s most primitive instincts and
response to fear and anger. The “fight or flight” response elevates the body’s
stress levels during a dangerous situation, but subsides when the threat has
“With constant negativity, this response stays on, and it spirals
into pathology,” Khianey said. “Our heart rate stays higher. The blood vessels
in our body constrict. Our blood pressure rises and people develop medical
conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke.”
In their analysis, the researchers looked at the language
used in 148 million public tweets over two years from 1,347 counties across the
country. They compared that information to public health data from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention for each county, including information on
deaths from heart disease and rates of smoking, obesity and hypertension.
Comparing the information, researchers found the models
based on the tweets were an accurate indicator of heart disease death rates
recorded by the CDC.
While the researchers admitted that the angry tweeters were
not necessarily the people dying of heart disease, they said if your neighbors
are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease.
Khianey thinks that investing in emotional health by the
scientific and medical community is a good thing.
“Our minds are very powerful and what we think, how we
perceive ourselves and our environment – whether positive or negative – shapes
our emotional and physical health and can also impact others,” Khianey said.
Khianey said how a person reacts to negativity or positivity
on social media or through other means is highly individual. She does believe
that social media has changed the way people relate to each other, she added.
“It has replaced at least in part the face-to-face interactions we had 10 years
ago,” Khianey said. “Yet, it does not capture the full spectrum of human
communication that takes place face-to-face.”
As a consequence, meanings can be misconstrued and people
forget that they are interacting with other human beings.
Perhaps, the takeaway is to engage in social media wisely.
Stay away from people who post emotionally negative tweets or stories and
follow those who post while expressing hope and optimism.