Can a positive outlook lower your risk of heart problems?
It’s no secret that your attitude and feelings effect your behavior. You’ve probably noticed that when you’re feeling sad about something it can make you think more pessimistically about unrelated parts of your life, and vice versa, when you’re happy about something you might notice yourself thinking unusually optimistically about new challenges and opportunities coming your way. We see how our emotions and attitudes paint how we conceptualize the world around us, but could our disposition also have an effect on our heart health down the line?
In a new study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers at Penn State University looked at more than 1,000 participants with coronary heart disease over a 5-year period. Researchers assessed the psychological well-being of patients as well as their physical activity, sleep quality, medication adherence, and alcohol and cigarette use at a baseline and again at a five-year follow-up.
Participants were asked to rate the extent that they had felt 10 specific positive emotions, including “interested,” “proud,” “enthusiastic,” and “inspired.”
Patients who reported having higher levels of positive emotions were more likely to exercise, sleep better, avoid smoking, and take their heart medications on a consistent basis, compared to patients with lower levels of positive states.
Not surprisingly, these behaviors have been shown through previous research to reduce your risk of heart disease and heart related illnesses.
As Nancy L. Sin, Ph.D. — post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Healthy Aging and the department of bio-behavioral health at Pennsylvania State — explains,
“Negative emotions and depression are known to have harmful effects on health, but it is less clear how positive emotions might be health-protective. We found that positive emotions are associated with a range of long-term health habits, which are important for reducing the risk of future heart problems and death.”
Researchers found no correlation between positive emotions and alcohol use.
The researchers at Penn State took into account patients’ demographic factors, depressive symptoms, and the severity of their heart conditions. One of the most encouraging aspects of this study is the fact that positive emotions at baseline did not predict changes in health behaviors five years later. In other words, the people who had great outlooks at the 5 year review weren’t necessarily that way from the start. Patients who increased their positive emotions as the study went on were more likely to keep up healthy behaviors.
“Efforts to sustain or enhance positive emotions may be promising for promoting better health behaviors,” said the researchers.
Positive emotions could be associated with good health habits for a number of reasons. People with greater positive well-being may be more motivated and persistent in engaging in healthy behaviors. They might have more confidence in their abilities to maintain routines such as physical activity and sleep hygiene. Positive emotions may also allow people to better adjust their health goals and to proactively cope with stress and setbacks.
This study paves the way for future research on interventions to improve health habits, including studying people with other types of chronic diseases, Sin noted.
Although the people in this study already had heart problems, other research has shown happiness to be an effective preventative tool. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that an overall positive sense of well-being was associated with a nearly one-third reduction of coronary artery disease.
We see articles about stress and depression filling the headlines every day. It’s nice to be reminded that positive thinking can have a huge impact on our health and that it’s never to late to look on the bright side.