A new study has found that people who are prone to procrastination have a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, suggesting that intervention and better awareness could minimise the effects.
A growing body of research has shown that personality traits can have an adverse effect on health, so a team led by psychologist Fuschia M. Sirois from Bishop's University in Quebec, Canada, wanted to see if procrastination could be bad for your health. Previous studies have already suggested that procrastination is linked to a range of stress-related health problems, including headaches, digestive issues, colds and flus, and insomnia, plus those who do it often self-report poor health, but they wanted to see if longer-term health effects were also associated with the trait.
The team defined procrastination as a personality trait - and not just an annoying habit - when unnecessary delay and avoidance becomes someone's frequent response to tough or tedious tasks that lack an immediate reward. "Supporting this view of procrastination as a relatively stable trait, behaviour-genetics research with over 300 same-sex twin pairs has demonstrated that procrastination, as measured with the General Procrastination Scale, has a moderate degree of heritability (46 percent), and is distinct at the phenotypic level from a related trait, impulsivity," they write in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine.
To test its effect, the researchers gathered 980 volunteers, splitting them into 'healthy' and those with hypertension and/or cardiovascular disease. After quizzing them on their basic demographics and medical history, they were asked to complete what's known as Lay's General Procrastination scale, which is a widely used measure of procrastination as a personality trait, that tests a person's level of procrastination in a series of hypothetical scenarios. Responses such as "I am continually saying I'll do it tomorrow" and "In preparing for some deadlines, I often waste time by doing other things" are scored to assess a person's tendency to delay the completion of important tasks.
Having assessed the results, the team found a link between those who procrastinate habitually, and those who have been diagnosed with heart conditions. They say a better understanding of the link could help health practitioners work with those who have the trait, making them more self-aware of the behaviours that could lead to health risks and suggesting ways to mitigate their effects. "The question of causality aside, the present findings are the first to suggest that trait procrastination may be a vulnerability factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease by demonstrating a link between trait procrastination," they conclude.
The question of why this trait could be linked to health problems wasn't discussed, but Melissa Dahl at NYMag has some suggestions:
"People who are habitual procrastinators may be likely to put off dreary chores like exercising or eating healthily, and the avoidance of these can of course lead to chronic health issues, like heart disease.
And, as anyone who's ever procrastinated on anything knows, people who put undesirable tasks off still, eventually, have to actually do those tasks - and when they do, they'll be under more stress than necessary, because they've allowed themselves less time to get the thing done. Stress, and its detrimental effect on the body's inflammatory responses, can also contribute to heart disease."
As someone for whom all of the above sounds about right, I'm gonna rush straight to the gym… right after I do everything that's more fun first.