A Happy Mind May Equal a Healthy Heart

People who experience joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, and contentment have what’s called a positive affect. It’s been linked with living longer and a having a lower risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Now, a study published in the European Heart Journalsuggests that it might also lower your risk for heart problems.

Happiness Linked to Heart Health

For 10 years, researchers followed more than 1,700 people who were all at least 18 years old. None had heart disease when the study began. Researchers interviewed participants and rated them on a five-point scale according to how much positive affect they displayed. A value of one on the scale was “no positive affect” and a value of five was “extreme positive affect.” The group also was evaluated for symptoms of depression, hostility, and anxiety.

During the study period, 145 people developed heart disease. After researchers accounted for factors that could increase risk for heart problems, such smoking and high blood pressure, the data showed that the happier people were, the less likely they were to develop heart disease. In fact, risk for heart disease dropped 22 percent for every point higher on the five-point scale.

People with symptoms of depression had a slightly higher risk for heart disease. But no link was found between heart disease and feelings of hostility or anxiety.

Better Lifestyle Habits May Be the Cause

Researchers think that positive affect might protect against heart disease because it’s linked with better sleep and higher odds of quitting smoking.

This study is the first to look into a possible link between happiness and heart disease. Researchers are now looking into whether boosting people’s happiness levels can improve their heart health and lower the risk for heart disease. However, known and well-established strategies such as exercising, not smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels have been shown to help prevent heart disease.

Give Yourself a Mood Boost

To give your mood a boost, think about hobbies, daily activities, or other habits you enjoy. Then try to do these activities more often, but at least every day. Research has shown that doing the things you enjoy more often can improve your quality of life.

In addition, learn to manage your stress levels. People who are under stress are often emotional, anxious, irritable, or depressed. To lower your stress levels, try these stress-busting tips.

1. Use deep breathing to relax.Here’s how:

  • Lie down or sit in a chair and place your hands on your stomach.
  • Slowly count to four and breathe in through your nose. Feel your stomach rise. Hold it for a second.
  • Slowly count to four while you exhale through your mouth. To exhale slowly, purse your lips like you’re going to whistle. Your stomach will slowly fall.
  • Repeat five to 10 times.

2. Exercise on most days. Getting physical activity helps relieve muscles that are tense and improves your mood through the release of certain chemicals in your body called endorphins.

3. Relax your body. Your muscles become tense when you are under stress. Relax your muscles by taking a hot shower or stretching.

Talk with a doctor if your stress doesn’t go away or if it gets worse.