3:55 PM EST, January 25, 2012
Depression, anxiety, anger and other negative emotions have been linked to heart disease and heart attacks. But what about the flip side — are positive emotions connected to better heart health? Yes, say two reports that addressed this question from different directions.
At Duke University Medical Center, researchers asked 2,618 men and women scheduled to have a coronary angiogram (a special X-ray that shows blood flow through the arteries that nourish the heart) questions about what they expected their future cardiovascular health to be like. Fifteen years later, they found that those who'd had the highest expectations were 24 percent less likely to have died of heart disease than those with the lowest expectations. That study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The next study was long term and looked at Boston-area men. It took note of a marker of psychological and emotional health called self-regulation. It measures the ability to use and control both positive and negative emotions and responses to situations. High self-regulation reflects flexibility and resilience. In the group of men who scored highest on a test for self-regulation, 6 percent had a heart attack or died of cardiovascular disease over the following 12 years, compared with 14 percent in the group scoring lowest. The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
These findings add to the evidence that a positive outlook or positive emotions somehow contribute to a healthy heart and arteries. They may do it directly, in which case learning techniques to be more positive could be a prescription for better health. It's also possible that positive emotions could be working indirectly — people with positive attitudes or outlooks may exercise more, eat a more healthful diet or be better about taking necessary medications. Or maybe healthier lifestyles lead to a more positive outlook on life.
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