What Your Type-A Personality Really Means For Your Health
I admit it: I’m "Type-A." In fact, sometimes I feel like I need to go to meetings:
"Hello, my name is Will."
[in unison] "Hello, Will."
"It's been two weeks since my last workaholic episode, my phone is no longer physically plugged into my umbilical cord, and I don't hyperventilate until I pass out when I take an entire day off."
Yes, I am that person. The Type-A behavior pattern — with which I identify — is defined as a temperament with excessive ambition, aggression, competitiveness, drive, impatience, need for control, and an unrealistic sense of urgency. These are the overachievers who just cannot get themselves to sit down and chill out for a second.
It's also commonly said that this pattern of behavior can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It's an association that we've known about since the 1950s, and it's often stated just as unequivocally today. Case in point: WebMD's declaration, “Type A Triggers Heart Disease." Nothing questionable about that.
So if you’re a competitive person, or someone driven to succeed, you might read this and freak out a bit. You might think that these tendencies will be the death of you. But you should know that isn't the whole story.
Being a hyper-motivated overachiever is irrelevant to your cardiovascular health.
Why Your Type-A Personality Isn't Necessarily Harmful
Although it's true that the Type-A personality profile in general can be more prone to cardiovascular disease and death (one study found that more than a third of all cardiovascular patients had the Type-A behavior pattern), it's also completely misleading. Type-A behavior has many traits associated with it. And so the über anal-retentive fact-finding obsessives like me will doubtless ask, which one of these traits is most responsible? Is it a combination of those traits, or perhaps a subset?
As it turns out, there is hope for my people. Because Type-A personality is to heart disease as coffee is to cancer.
Let me explain: Several decades ago, researchers discovered that people who drink coffee also have a greater risk of getting cancer. As a result, these two factors were linked and for a while we were burdened with an incorrect assumption: that coffee consumption increases the risk of cancer.
The problem with this conclusion — besides coffee-deprived mornings — was that those who drank coffee also tended to smoke. In other words, many variables were associated with coffee consumption and only one of them was actually responsible for an increased risk of cancer (smoking). That means all the other variables associated with coffee consumption — like actually drinking coffee — are not related to an increased risk of cancer at all.
It’s a totally rookie science error. And the same basic problem seems to be at play with the link between the Type-A personality and cardiovascular disease.
Of the seven different traits assigned to this personality type, it turns out that only a couple of them actually contribute to heart problems. And the question really is, which trait is contributing to heart problems?
The higher the hostility and impatience, the higher your risk of hypertension.
Anger and Hostility: The Personality Traits That Actually Matter
This association was also supported by the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. A total of 3,308 adults aged 18 to 30 years from four metropolitan areas were followed for more than 15 years. Researchers wanted to discover which of the personality traits — time urgency/impatience, achievement striving/competitiveness, hostility, depression, and/or anxiety — were most associated with hypertension.
The results? Achievement, striving, and competitiveness — all classic hallmarks of a Type-A personality — were not related to hypertension at all. However, the traits of impatience and hostility were related in a dose-dependent manner — meaning, the higher the hostility and impatience, the higher the risk of hypertension.
The message seems to be that being a hyper-motivated overachiever is irrelevant to your cardiovascular health. It’s neither here nor there (one less thing to micromanage, right?). So, go ahead and achieve away.
What does matter is whether you carry yourself through this life with anger and hostility or live via more positive emotions. This distinction seems to be the case no matter where you are on the personality scale, from busy bee to beach bum.
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Will Clower, Ph.D., is an award-winning author, neurophysiologist, neuroscientist, nutritionist, and founder of Mediterranean Wellness, LLC., which administer the Path Healthy Eating and Weight-Loss Curriculum adopted by corporate clients across the U.S. The author of The Fat Fallacy and The French Don’t Diet Plan, he is based in Pittsburgh, PA.