Happiness is the key to a healthy heart

Hope and happiness can keep you healthy. Image: Shutterstock

Positive emotions may protect against cardiovascular diseases.

It is widely known that negative emotions such as depression, anger, anxiety and hostility can have detrimental effects on a person’s cardiovascular health. However, a recent study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) suggests that it is possible to help prevent heart disease by enhancing people’s positive emotions.

This research may help with new strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease, which is the cause of 50,000 Australian deaths each year according to the 2011 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report.

“The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight,” Julia Boehm, at the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, says.

The research, led by Boehm, reviewed more than 200 studies that were published by other investigators, some of which had followed participants across several decades. Most studies asked participants to self-report the extent to which they were happy, optimistic, or had purpose in their lives.

A handful of studies measured well-being objectively, such as by rating the degree to which happiness was displayed in facial expressions, by asking parents or close others to rate how happy a person tended to be.

According to Boehm, there is some evidence to suggest that positive emotions may have short-term, acute effects on health. However, it is believed that the long-term and cumulative effects of having an optimistic outlook, finding meaning in life, or being satisfied is what matters most for cardiovascular health.

“Evidence indicates that cardiovascular disease patients with greater well-being tend to show a slower progression of disease relative to patients with lower well-being,” Boehm says. “The most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50 percent reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers.”

The study published in Psychological Bulletin suggests that bolstering psychological strengths rather than only repairing psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health. Therefore, it may be useful for healthcare providers to ask about their patients feelings of satisfaction and purpose in life.

New research from Australia and China has also found that people appeared to be happier if they expected good things to happen. They systematically over-estimate how well the future will turn out, which appears to be crucial for their wellbeing.

Source: Harvard School of Public Health, Science Alert

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