I guess we ordinary people always suspected it—moods can effect our heart health. But we mostly heard this in a downer way, people dying of broken hearts.
However, what’s getting attention on the medical landscape these days is the opposite idea—-people can live longer because of a happy heart. The Rx suggested here is joy, pleasure, contentment and yes, happiness.
Is there evidence that happiness promotes heart health?
You bet. Just consider this: Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York followed 1,739 healthy adults over 10 years, taking periodic measurements of their negative emotions—depression, hostility, anxiety—and their positive emotions—joy, enthusiasm and pleasure. They also monitored the state of individual heart health or heart disease. Without boring you with details about how they controlled for this or that, what they found was a correlation between the state of the emotions and the health of the heart. Happier people had healthier hearts.
Happiness Seemed to Ward Off Heart Disease.
This finding and others like it might have major implications for the treatment of heart disease. If heart troubles can be prevented by boosting positive emotions, will doctors prescribe HBO comedy specials, golden labs or whatever else floats your happiness boat?
The team’s leader, Karina Davidson, Ph.D., said the study was the first to examine the relationship between clinically-assessed positive emotions and heart disease. She called for more research, but said people should try and put fun into their daily routines, rather than enjoying life in short bursts.
“Some people wait for their two weeks of vacation to have fun and that would be analogous to binge drinking, ” she said. “If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule. Essentially, spending a few minutes each day truly relaxing and enjoying yourself is good for your mental health and may improve your physical health as well.”
Other studies came to a similiar conclusion. Julia Boehm, Harvard School of Public Health, did a meta-analysis of the many studies about health and happiness. Her findings? Optimistic people have half the risk of a first heart attack than pessimistic, negative people. The stress associated with negative emotions evidently harms the heart and vessels.
Tragedy: Get Outta Here
Which gets me to the subject of what we choose as “entertainment” at the end of the day. Call me a wanna-be Pollyanna, but since life can be tough, it’s a daily challenge to keep spirits buoyant and I don’t want my movies and TV to bring me down when I’ve worked all day to be Zen and pleasant. So count me among the people who will not currently be seeing the movie “Amour” about the disintegration and death of older people. Why pay to face death when you can get it for free in your own life? Me, I guard my moods and can barely take the passing of Michael Crawley on Downton Abbey.
Same goes for news. Almost all bad and depressing. I read newspapers just enough to know what is going on and it’s my husband, Cranky Pants, who keeps Brian Williams company at the end of the day.
Sure. While the Columbia study is regarded by the cardiac community as the one that most clearly suggests happier people have lower rates of heart disease. a correlation does not prove cause and effect. More research is needed to prove that happiness is an evidence-based Rx for heart disease. Also note: this study does not mean any of us can ignore established risk factors—smoking, high blood pressure, inactivity and wallowing in saturated fat—my once favorite form of edible entertainment.
So what to do?
You probably already know what makes you happy. Unless you have a heroin habit, do those things more often. Some of us, though, have forgotten some of the simple joys of childhood and need to excavate them from memory. I am currently enjoying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Benny Goodman and sunrises.
Same to ya.
Thanks to Stephen Bowler and CarbonNYC for their photos and please post any hints you have for staying on the sunny side of the street after 60.