Is this the solution to staying heart healthy?
Is the glass half empty or half full?
If you’re a glass-half-full person, your affect – that is, your emotional response to certain situations – may be protecting your heart.
Researchers observed the lifestyles of 1,739 adults in Nova Scotia, Canada over 10 years, noting trends in their attitudes and emotions. The results, published in the European Heart Journal in 2010, concluded that happier individuals were 22 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those falling on the negative side of the emotional range. While this conclusion does not confirm that happiness causes better heart health, it does suggest a positive affect is correlated with a lower risk of the most common type of heart disease.
There are numerous reasons behind why happiness may protect our hearts, but the researchers identified several reasons as most probable; happier people tend to lead a more positive, healthy lifestyle. They tend to sleep better, eat a more balanced diet and exercise more regularly – all habits proven to lower heart disease risk. Happiness results in the production of positive chemical changes, such as increased levels of serotonin, and also reduces the production of stress hormones (including adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine), which, in turn, puts less wear and tear on the body and heart.
Dr. Robert Johnson, a cardiologist at Advocate Heart Institute at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., notes that many individuals under high levels of stress become vulnerable to other unhealthy practices or problems, including depression, obesity, poor sleep and substance abuse, many of which can lead to increased risk of heart disease.
“Addressing and correcting the sources of chronic stress would be the best solution,” says Dr. Johnson. “Stress management techniques are often suggested, and I recommend these when feasible.”
Dr. Johnson proposes regular moderate exercise, yoga, a regulated sleep schedule and weight and diet management for those who overeat as a stress response.
“I also suggest volunteering, finding a hobby and working to improve personal relationships as ways to decrease stress and optimize happiness,” he says.
So while the findings in this study don’t suggest that happy individuals are in the clear, nor that less positive individuals are guaranteed to suffer from heart attacks, strokes or heart disease in the future, it is clear that the benefits of a happy, healthy diet and lifestyle can have both a short- and long-term positive impact on one’s life.
About the Author
Shvetali Thatte, a junior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, is a remote Public Affairs and Marketing intern for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She spends her time by engaging in clubs and sports at school as well as volunteering at the hospital and nearby tutoring programs. She enjoys spending time with her friends, traveling, and reading. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in medicine with a focus on public health.