Tweet less, talk more

It seems ridiculous. How in the world could a short message made up of 140 characters or less have an impact on the physical condition of one’s heart? Well, believe it or not, when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart and a healthier life overall, we really are what we tweet. Social media is affecting us in more ways than we realize.

Maybe that’s because so many people around the world are attached both physically and mentally to their iPhones and other mobile devices. One recent study published in November by a professor at the University of Southern Maine found that even the mere presence of a cellphone nearby is enough to cause real distraction and frustration. Most Twitter followers and users (and there are nearly 285 million of them now sending 500 million-plus tweets a day) are connected to the social media site through their phones. It’s not exactly breaking news that stress can wreak havoc on our health, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the use of those gadgets is showing up on heart monitors.

The study connecting tweeting and heart health was published in Psychological Science magazine last month. University of Pennsylvania researchers actually found that tweets of younger adults can be “indicative of a stressful environment associated with heart disease.”

Tweets expressing negative emotions are associated with a higher heart disease risk, the researchers discovered. Tweets with positive emotional language, like “wonderful” and “friends,” correlated with lower rates of the disease, researchers explained.

Researchers examined a random sample of public tweets sent between 2009-10 and compared them to health data across 1,300 counties across the United States. They found Twitter to actually be a “better predictor of heart disease than combined factors such as smoking, diabetes and obesity.”

Given all the evidence showing the influence modern media has on our lives, is it any wonder Pope Francis chose to address the impact this has on the family in his message for the 49th World Communications Day? In his message, entitled “Communicating in the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love,” the pope’s words echo the concerns raised in the University of Pennsylvania study, in particular the use of negative language. The pope noted that modern media are an essential part of life for young people and can be both a help and hindrance to communications — especially in families.

“It is only in blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather than repelling, and by accepting rather than fighting that we can break the spiral of evil, show goodness is always possible, and educate our children to fellowship.”

The pope infers strongly in this message that there would be a lot less stress in our homes and our lives if we could tweet and post less and actually talk more. “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another; not simply how to generate and consume information. The latter is a tendency which our important and influential modern communications media can encourage. Information is important but it is not enough. All too often things get simplified, different positions and viewpoints are pitted against one another and people are invited to take sides rather than see things as a whole.”

The evidence continues to pile up showing that, unfortunately, we are what we tweet — and then some. But as the Holy Father reminds us, it doesn’t have to be that way, and taking this to heart in our families can make a major difference.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.