Eat healthy foods, sleep well and get enough exercise. This has been the typical prescription for anyone seeking a healthy heart. And recent research points to a fourth tenant that should be added to that list: smile!
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Optimism — It Makes Your Heart Beat
Many studies have been conducted regarding the negative affect a bad attitude has on cardiovascular health. “But just as depression, anxiety and hostility can be cardio-toxic,” says Leo Pozuelo, MD, section head of Consultation Psychiatry and staff at the Heart and Vascular Institute, “positive emotions can be cardio-protective.”
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people who are optimistic are approximately 50 percent less likely to suffer an initial cardiovascular event, regardless of body weight, age, smoking status or socio-economic background. Unfortunately, the category missing from that list is gender.
The Gender Gap
Although men are more likely to suffer from heart disease, it is also a significant risk for women. This risk is also increased because women are more likely to suffer from depression than men, especially after a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one.
Dr. Pozuelo says it is still unknown why women are more predisposed to depression — but all hope is not lost. Researchers believe that just being aware of the positive effect happy thoughts can have is already a step in the right direction. With this knowledge, preventive techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication can be used when necessary.
These approaches, of course, should be supplemented with a daily dose of happiness. Dr. Pozuelo continues, “It appears that positive feelings create a resiliency that can prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease.”
How Does It Work?
A happy mindset sets in motion a number of positive reactions. First and foremost, happiness contributes to a sense of well-being. Many healthy habits spring from this, such as getting a sufficient amount of sleep, exercising and eating a balanced diet, all of which contribute to good cardiovascular health. These habits lead to better biological function, including healthier blood fat profiles, healthy weight and lower blood pressure. This positive cycle can do more than put a smile on our faces — it can keep us alive.
Of course it would be impossible to be happy all the time. We’re bound to have a bad day once in awhile. But a positive outlook on the situation can do a lot to change the way that bad day affects us.
Dr. Pozuelo concludes, “The challenge for all of us is to make the best of our daily life, to have structure, to engage in pleasurable activities and to maintain a healthy balance at work.”
And don’t forget to smile!