THE QUESTION Negative emotions, including those associated with anxiety and depression, have been found to be hard on the heart. Might the opposite — feeling generally upbeat and happy about life — have the reverse effect and be beneficial to heart health?
THIS STUDY involved 1,483 generally healthy adults, most in their mid-40s, who had an above-
average risk for heart problems because they had a sibling who developed coronary artery disease before age 60. In about a 12-year span, 208 of the participants had a heart attack, experienced heart-related chest pain (angina) or needed stents or bypass surgery. People who were positive and felt good about their lives, based on a standardized assessment of mood and attitude done at the start of the study, were 33 percent less likely to have had a heart problem than those who were not as upbeat. Overall, as feelings of well-being improved, risk for heart problems fell. People whose family history put them at the greatest risk for heart problems realized the most benefit from being cheerful and optimistic, reducing their risk by 50 percent.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with a family history of heart disease. Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, develops when plaque builds up on the inner walls of blood vessels, restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and leading to such conditions as angina, shortness of breath and heart attack. More people in the United States die from heart disease than from any other cause.
CAVEATS Data on the participants’ mood and attitude came from their responses on questionnaires. The study did not determine the mechanism by which a generally positive sense of well-being may be heart-protective. Study participants included only people with a family history of heart disease. It is unclear whether the findings apply to others; however, the researchers looked at similar data on 5,992 people representative of the general population and attributed a 13 percent risk reduction to those with the cheeriest dispositions.
FIND THIS STUDY July 1 online issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.