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Positive Thinking linked to a Lower Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

Update Date: Apr 23, 2012 01:09 PM EDT

Positive emotions such as happiness, optimism, and finding meaning in life are linked to a lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) showed that being optimistic and upbeat not only is good for people mentally, but also may help protect them against heart disease.

"We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease  (CVD) regardless of such factors as a person's age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight," said lead author Julia Boehm of HSPH.

The researchers found that individuals with a sense of well-being engaged in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, greater well-being was related to better biological function, such as lower blood pressure, healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles, and normal body weight.

The American Heart Association reports more than 2,200 Americans die of CVD each day, an average of one death every 39 seconds. Stroke accounts for about one of every 18 U.S. deaths.

In a review of more than 200 studies published in two major scientific databases, the researchers found there are psychological assets, like optimism and positive emotion, that give protection against cardiovascular disease. It also appears that these factors slow the progression of disease.

To further understand how psychological well-being and CVD might be related, Boehm and Kubzansky also investigated well-being's association with cardiovascular-related health behaviors and biological markers. 

If future research continues to indicate that higher levels of satisfaction, optimism, and happiness come before cardiovascular health, this has strong implications for the design of prevention and intervention strategies. 

"These findings suggest that an emphasis on bolstering psychological strengths rather than simply mitigating psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health," Kuzbansky said. 

The study was published in the Psychological Bulletin  

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