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Research has shown time and time again that our minds and bodies are linked: stress and depression can breed fatigue, while a positive outlook on life can provide us with an increased amount of energy. Willpower and determination can make us run faster and longer.

A new study expounds upon the link between mind and body; it shows that holding a grudge may not weigh only on your mind but also upon your physical person. Published in Social Psychological & Personality Science, the research states that the act of forgiveness — pardoning someone who has done you wrong — can not only metaphorically lift a burden off your shoulders, but it can do so physically, as well.

The authors of the study, from Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, had 46 undergraduate students participate in two experiments. The first involved half of the students writing about “a time when they were seriously offended by another person, and ultimately forgave them.” The other half of students were asked to write about a similar incident, but one in which they never forgave the person and continued to view them negatively.

After each writing exercise, the students in both groups walked to a certain point in a nearby hill and were asked to estimate its slant. Interestingly, those who had written about their experience of forgiving someone estimated the hill to be less steep than those who were still thinking about their negative feelings towards someone they hadn’t forgiven.

Weighed Down By Grudges

In the second experiment, 160 undergraduate students from Erasmus University and National University of Singapore were divided into three groups. The first wrote about an experience in which they were harmed by another person but forgave them; the second wrote about a similar situation but one in which they didn’t forgive the person; and the third wrote about a “recent interpersonal interaction” that didn’t necessarily involve harming or forgiveness. They were then tested in an “ostensible physical fitness task,” in which they were measured by the height of their jumps. The researchers found that the students who had written about forgiveness jumped higher on average than those who focused on the negative feelings involved with not forgiving someone. However, the jumping difference between those who forgave and those who simply wrote about a neutral interpersonal interaction was minimal: proving that it was the act of holding a grudge that was “weighing” people down.

“The benefits of forgiveness may go beyond the constructive consequences that have been established in the psychological and health domains,” the researchers write. “Our research shows that forgivers perceive a less daunting world, and perform better on challenging physical tasks.”

More research will need to be completed before researchers fully understand what causes lack of forgiveness to be a burden of sorts, or a limitation holding someone back. But it might have something to do with power, the authors point out: “Victims who are unable to reconcile with their offenders often feel a sense of powerlessness,” they write. Forgiving, on the other hand, provides a person with a greater sense of self-worth and power, which is often manifested into enhanced physical ability. Another possibility is that holding a grudge “can increase rumination, which may decrease the availability of cognitive resources such as glucose that can otherwise be used to cope with physical challenges such as jumping or climbing a hill.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness brings with it plenty of health benefits, including improved relationships, decreased anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, a lowered risk of depression, and stronger immune and heart health. Letting go of negative emotions can often have a remarkable impact on the body.

“A state of unforgiveness is like carrying a heavy burden — a burden that victims bring with them when they navigate the physical world,” the authors write. “Forgiveness can lighten this burden.”

Source: Zheng X, Fehr R, Tai K, Narayanan J, Gelfand M. “The Unburdening Effects of Forgiveness Effects on Slant Perception and Jumping Height.” Social Psychological & Personality Science, 2014.

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