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Issue 87: Attitude Check for Your Heart

The advice in the song, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy” might have more to it than just a catchy tune from days gone by. Being happy may be a great way to help keep your heart healthy, according to a recent study. It says a negative attitude can damage your heart, while a positive attitude—especially happiness—can be beneficial for it.

Even if you happen to be a “cranky pants” by nature, there’s still hope. You can at least act like a happy person and glean benefits.

In 1995, researchers at Columbia University rated the happiness levels of more than 1,700 adults who had no history of heart problems. Ten years later, they examined the 145 people who developed a heart problem and found that happier people were less likely to have heart issues. The study, which was paid for by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other organizations, was published online in the European Heart Journal.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center, even encourages those with Eeyore-like attitudes. She says, “If you aren’t naturally a happy person, just try acting like one. It could help your heart.”

David and her colleagues used a five-point scale to measure happiness in their test subjects and made adjustments for age, gender, smoking and other areas. For each point reached on this “happiness scale,” participants were one-fifth less likely to have a heart problem. Interestingly, Davidson noted, too, that those who are happy are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle.  

Other implications of this study are that there might be an unknown genetic trait that predisposes people to being happy and to have fewer heart problems, but researchers can’t confirm this. Experts have been saying for some time now that negative emotions, stress or depression are heart-damaging.

For example, stress can cause blood vessels to open up more, allowing plaque to break off and clog arteries, says Joep Perk, a professor of health sciences at Kalmar University in Sweden, who serves as spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology. “I often tell my patients not to get too depressed because it’s bad for your heart. You need time to recharge your batteries or else your heart won’t be able to take it,” states Perk. Furthermore, stress releases dangerous hormones that can damage heart muscle.

Dr. Davidson--mentioned earlier--sums it up this way: “Anything that people can do to increase the amount of [happiness] in their lives will be helpful.” She quickly adds, “No smoking, eating unhealthy food, not exercising or anything potentially damaging.”

So, go ahead and follow the song’s advice: Don’t worry. Be happy.

Your heart will thank you.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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