Harvard Heart Letter

Emotional control and the heart

Depression, anxiety, anger, and other so-called negative emotions have been linked to heart disease and heart attacks. 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% less likely to have died of heart disease than those with the lowest expectations (Archives of Internal Medicine, published online Feb. 28, 2011).

A long-term study of Boston-area men looked at 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% had a heart attack or died of cardiovascular disease over the following 12 years, compared with 14% in the group scoring lowest (Archives of General Psychiatry, April 2011).

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