July 16, 2022

Managing your emotions can protect your heart

Heart disease and heart attacks have been related to depression, anxiety, wrath, and other so-called negative emotions. What about the other side of the coin: are happy emotions associated with better heart health? Yes, according to two reports that approached the issue from different angles.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center polled 2,618 men and women who were scheduled for coronary angiography (a specific x-ray that reveals blood flow through the arteries that feed the heart) about their expectations for their future cardiovascular health. They discovered that people with the highest expectations were 24% less likely to die of heart disease fifteen years later than those with the lowest expectations (Archives of Internal Medicine, online Feb. 28, 2011). 

A long-term study of Boston-area men looked at self-regulation as a sign of psychological and emotional wellness. It assesses how well you can use and control both good and negative emotions as well as how you react to circumstances. Flexibility and resilience are seen in high self-regulation. Over the next 12 years, 6 per cent of men who scored the highest on a self-regulation exam had a heart attack or died of cardiovascular illness, compared to 14 per cent of men who scored the lowest (Archives of General Psychiatry, April 2011).

These findings add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that a positive attitude or pleasant emotions benefit heart and artery health in some way. They may do it directly, in which case, practising positive-thinking practices could be a prescription for greater health. Optimistic emotions may also have an indirect effect: people with positive attitudes or outlooks may exercise more, consume a healthier diet, or be more diligent about taking prescribed drugs. Alternatively, perhaps leading a healthy lifestyle leads to a more cheerful attitude towards life.

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