A positive mindset can help your heart

Monique Tello, MD, MPH

Contributing Editor

Can being positive protect against heart disease? Yes! There is a lot of evidence suggesting that having a positive outlook — like being optimistic, cheerful, having gratitude and purpose in life — can be heart-protective. Researchers in the UK looked at psychological characteristics of over 8,000 people, and found that those who scored high on optimism and a sense of well-being enjoyed a 30% lower risk of developing heart disease. Other studies report similar findings: in a study of over 70,000 women followed for over 10 years, those who scored highest on an optimism questionnaire had a significantly lower risk of death from heart attacks (38%) and strokes (39%).

A positive outlook may even be benefit people who already have cardiovascular disease, which is significant, because they are at very high risk of having heart attacks and strokes. In the US Health and Retirement study, in participants with known stable heart disease, positive psychological traits were associated with significantly lower risks of having a heart attack, and these traits included optimism (38% lower risk), positive outlook (32%), and having a purpose in life (27%). In three separate studies involving hundreds of patients with severe disease requiring either coronary bypass graft surgery or stenting, a higher level of optimism was significantly associated with a lower risk of post-procedure hospitalizations.

How does thinking positively affect your heart?

Many studies show that people prone to negative emotions have a higher risk of heart disease. Negative emotions are associated with the release of stress hormones and a physical stress response, resulting in a higher heart rate and blood pressure. Scientists hypothesize that positive people who have a “glass half-full” approach to life are less likely to experience this stress response. Basically, those who tend to look for the bright side of negative situations can avoid the damage that stress inflicts on the cardiovascular system. Another hypothesis is that people with a positive outlook are more likely to use healthy coping strategies like problem-solving to overcome obstacles and manage stressors, whereas people with a negative outlook tend toward unhealthy coping strategies like self-medicating with food and other substances.

Keeping a gratitude journal can help

Researchers have also studied gratitude in patients with heart failure. Those who kept a daily gratitude journal, where they listed three or four things for which they were thankful every day for two months, had lower levels of inflammatory hormones and a lower heart rate during a stressful exercise. This suggests that the simple daily habit of expressing gratitude can have big long-term health effects.

 Are you an optimistic person?

Some people are naturally more inclined to have a positive outlook and look for the silver lining, while others tend to view things in a more negative light. But optimism is as much as skill as a personality trait. You can train your brain to recognize and counteract negative thinking — your heart and health will be better for it.

References

A prospective study of positive psychological well-being and coronary heart disease. Health Psychology, May 2011.

Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, January 2017.

Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, September 2018.

Purpose in life and reduced risk of myocardial infarction among older U.S. adults with coronary heart disease: A two-year follow-up. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, April 2013.

The Protective Role of Positive Well-Being in Cardiovascular Disease: Review of Current Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Implications. Current Cardiology Reports, November 2016.

Positive psychological attributes and health outcomes in patients with cardiovascular disease: Associations, mechanisms, and interventions. Psychosomatics, July-August 2012.

Relationship between positive psychological constructs and cardiovascular outcomes: A systematic review. International Journal of Cardiology, September 2015.

Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February 2003.

Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure. Psychosomatic Medicine, July 2016.

Follow me on Twitter @drmoniquetello

Comments:

  1. omevan.com

    I agree with you, mindset can change everything of course our heart

  2. Texas42.club

    One way to become more optimistic is by socializing with other like-minded people. There’s the more immediate benefit, too, though; an optimistic mind-set simply helps our experiences feel more fulfilling and enjoyable. While many believe that optimism is something we’re born with in more or less finite quantities, we actually have some ability to shape our thoughts and actions–including our outlook on events.

  3. MindBodyThoughts.com

    I completely agree that a positive outlook or a positive mindset can definitely help in many cases. The only thing I caution is that we stay authentic. Sometimes we become so positive outwardly, but we numb awareness on the inside. For years, I did that and it almost cost me my life. Once I dealt with the underlying stuff holding me back, the positivity and positive outlook came naturally. It wasn’t really something I had to think about as it just happened as a result of the hard work I did on my mind body connection.

  4. https://gardasurya.co.id

    i agree with this article. Keep optimistic is good for your future of course because it’s good for your health, but if you too optimis you forget the risk that will happen in the future. Like you push too hard on something but you think it will work but it doesnt. It happens to me everytime.

  5. Islam ahmed

    II agree with most of this article but relaying the message to people NOT to express strong emotions is a misnomer. Cardiac patients need to learn to talk about their feeling and emotions without letting them bottle up and erupting like a Volcano. They have feelings that they need to process ; the mind and body are linked. They/we as a society need to disavow the notion of a cartesian split. I agree, that cardiac psychologists and those trained in mind-body techniques can be extremely helpful.

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