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Bored to Death…Literally!

Being bored can be bad for your heart

L'Ennui by Gaston La Touche ('ennui' is boredom in French)

Last week, while flipping through the TV channels in a semi-bored state, I landed on a documentary on…boredom! In the film, a researcher (Annie Britton) was discussing her 2010 study wherein she had found a link between boredom and an increased likelihood of dying. I decided to track down the paper in question, which was coauthored by Britton and Martin J. Shipley and published in The International Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers analyzed individuals’ responses to a boredom question stemming from secondary data that had been collected in two phases in the 1980s (n = 7,524). The exact question was the extent to which an individual had felt bored over the past four weeks on a four-item scale: ‘not at all’, ‘a little’, ‘quite a lot’, ‘all the time’. Survey respondents also provided information about their age, sex, self-rated health (‘Average or better’ or ‘Worse than average’), employment grade (high, medium, low), and physical activity (none/mild, moderate, or vigorous). Using a tagging system, the researchers were able to then match these responses to mortality data until April 2009 (i.e., more than 20 years after the original boredom data were collected). Fatal cardiovascular incidents, namely a sub-portion of the mortality data, were also analyzed. Hazard ratios were calculated to gauge the extent to which greater boredom might be associated with a greater likelihood of mortality. I’ll report a few of the key findings:

1) Those who reported experiencing a great deal of boredom during phase 1 of the data collection process had a hazard ratio of cardiovascular mortality of 2.53 (using the “not at all” group as the baseline with a hazard ratio of 1). In other words, those who stated that they experienced the most boredom had a much higher likelihood of dying from a cardiovascular incident than those who experienced none at all.

2) Clearly, it is not actual boredom that is causing people to die. One possible explanation among many is that those who experience great boredom might be apathetic about implementing healthy life choices such as engaging in physical activity. Of note, the researchers found that those reporting greater boredom in phase 1 also stated that they had worse health than average and engaged in lesser physical activity.

It would thus appear that there is some epidemiological validity to the expression “I am bored to death”! I can now listen to “Being Boring” by the Pet Shop Boys in a completely new light.

Get out there and enjoy life. It’s good for your health!

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