Optimism Helps the Heart
Psychological wellbeing helps reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
People who tend to see the glass as half full may have healthier attitudes for life, and they also may literally have healthier hearts. According to a review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, positive thoughts and feelings promote heart health in several ways.
The review found that optimistic patients were influenced by biological processes, the health behaviors they chose, and by psychosocial resources. On the behavior side, for example, they were more likely to quit smoking, to exercise regularly, and to eat less processed meats and sweets. Emotionally, positive thinking showed up in ways such as having a perceived higher purpose in life, which one study reviewed showed lowered the odds of having a stroke. Social support such as having a strong group of friends boosts overall wellbeing, the study found, especially if you have the kind of friends who meet for a yoga class and readily swap medical information.
And then there’s the way optimists tend to handle stress. “Optimists persevere by using problem-solving and planning strategies to manage stressors,” wrote the study’s author, Darwin Labarthe. Labarthe is an M.D., Ph.D. with a Master’s in public health who teaches Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University. “If others are faced with factors out of their control, they begin to shift their goals and use potentially maladaptive coping strategies, which would ultimately result in raising inflammation levels and less favorable overall heart health.”
Exactly how much does residing on the sunny side of life help your ticker? One study in the review shows that older women with the highest quartile of optimism had a 38 percent reduced risk of death from heart disease.
The takeaway for doctors is to help patients modify their psychological wellbeing, especially if they are facing a scary new diagnosis. For us laypeople, it’s good to know that our heart’s health is something we do have some control over.