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5 Surprising Health Benefits of Forgiveness

forgiveness statueAt some point in our lives, we all experience the deep sense of betrayal that comes from someone we love hurting us, whether through words or deeds. It’s our response, though, that determines how those wounds heal in the long term.

Unkind words or actions can leave lingering feelings of anger or even a desire to get even. You probably know that by fighting off those negative emotions, you can give yourself the gift of joy, hope and peace.

But did you know that by letting go and forgiving, you also can experience some tangible — and surprising — health benefits? In celebration of International Forgiveness Day on Aug. 7, we’ve put together a list of the positive effects of letting bygones be bygones.

Better Overall Health

If you’ve ever been involved in a spat with a sibling or a close friend, you know how terrible it can make you feel — and you know that the stress can leave you with physical symptoms, including fatigue and headaches.

Research has found that forgiveness correlates positively with five metrics of general health: medications taken, quality of sleep, fatigue, physical symptoms and bodily complaints. By letting go of grudges, you also can reduce symptoms of depression as you improve your overall health.

More Positive Behaviors

Practicing forgiveness strengthens your positive feelings and actions toward the person who offended you. But the benefits of forgiveness also extend to your behavior apart from the affected relationship. People who forgive have higher participation in volunteering, they donate more to charity, and they engage in other selfless behaviors. And that helps you feel better about yourself.

Lower Heart Rate

You know forgiveness is good for the soul. But research has found that it also benefits your heart. In one study, forgiveness was associated with a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure. High blood pressure strains your heart, increasing your risk of long-term problems like angina, coronary artery disease and even heart failure. By reducing your blood pressure, you can help prevent future damage to your heart and lower the risk of problems.

Less Stress

In another study, researchers monitored physical responses in college students who either mulled over perceived injustices or pictured themselves offering forgiveness to someone who had offended them.

When the students focused on the wrongs done to them, blood pressure and heart rates increased, the muscles in their brows tensed, and their negative feelings increased significantly. The students who pictured forgiveness, on the other hand, felt calmer and had more positive physical responses.

Healthier Relationships

By forgiving and forgetting, you maintain healthier relationships with people you care about — which can give your health a boost as well. By staying connected with others, you may decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and you may even live longer.

Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but it’s almost always the best course of action. When you feel yourself holding onto a grudge, remember that by forgiving, you take a positive step for your own health.