Men and women who experience an increase in hostile feelings from their late teens to their late 40s may double their risk of obesity, depression, poor social support and achieving less with their lives than they expected, say Ilene C. Siegler, Ph.D., of Duke University Medical Center and colleagues.
Those who increased their hostility were also more likely to smoke and have more than two drinks a day on average. All of these factors can add up to an increased risk of heart disease, say the researchers.
The study's findings also suggest that a person's level of hostility in college can help to predict unhealthy behaviors up to 30 years later.
"Interventions designed to reduce or -- potentially more important -- prevent gains in hostility, especially those delivered earlier in the lifecycle when they can exert a longer-term impact, may well help to reduce health risk behaviors and thus enhance the health of the population," Siegler says.
"Hostility is not the only risk factor and it most certainly does not operate in isolation; however, it would not be a bad place to focus," she adds.
To map out the relationship between health and hostility, the researchers collected data on physical and mental health and personality factors for more than 2,200 University of North Carolina college students who entered college between 1964 and 1965. The same data were collected again in 1998.
As is typical, almost two-thirds of the alumni become less hostile with age. About 18 percent either maintained their level of hostility or became more hostile over the years.
People who had a highly hostile personality in college were at significantly higher risk of smoking, drinking, suffering from depression and believing that life, family and career were turning out worse t
Contact: Ilene C. Siegler
Center for the Advancement of Health