Healthy living

Being happy may protect against heart disease and stroke

Being happy may help protect against heart disease and stroke Review links positive mental state to better heart health

Having a positive outlook on life can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to new research.

A review of more than 200 studies found that positive psychological well-being, including optimism and positive emotion, can help to protect against and even slow the progression of cardiovascular disease.

Previous studies have found that depression and stress can have a detrimental effect on the heart, but less is known about what effect a positive sense of well-being can have on heart health.

"The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive," said lead researcher Dr Julia Boehm from the Harvard School of Public Health.

"We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of such factors as a person's age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight.

"For example, the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50 per cent reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers," Dr Boehm said.

The researchers found that people who were more optimistic engaged in healthier behaviours, such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep.

But even when this was taken into account, those who were more optimistic were still less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "The association between heart disease and mental health is very complex and still not fully understood.

"Although this study didn't look at the effects of stress, it does confirm what we already know which is that psychological wellbeing is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, just like staying active and eating healthily.

"It also highlights the need for healthcare professionals to provide a holistic approach to care, taking into account the state of someone's mental health and monitoring its effect on their physical health."

The study findings are published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

This article was published on Wed 18 April 2012

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