The Cheerfulness Cure

Smile. It’s good for you. 

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University say people with a general sense of well being, including feeling cheerful, optimistic, and energetic about life, are less likely to suffer a heart attack.  

The research, published in The American Journal of Cardiology, shows that people with a positive outlook are half as likely to develop coronary artery disease, even those at the highest risk because of their family history.  

“If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events,” study leader Lisa R. Yanek, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a press release. “A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease, and you may be healthier as a result.”

To come to this conclusion, researchers used data from the Genetic Study of Atherosclerosis Risk, a 25-year project studying heart disease in people with a family history of coronary diseases. They studied 1,483 siblings of people who'd had a coronary event before turning 60, including surveying them on their moods and overall satisfaction with life. 

The researchers found that subjects' positive well being was associated with a one-third reduction in coronary events, including heart attacks and the need for a bypass. Among those with the greatest risk for a heart attack, there was a nearly 50 percent reduction. The scientists accounted for other heart disease risk factors, including age, smoking status, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.

They confirmed their findings by comparing them with data from 5,992 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  

Researchers have known for some time that people with depression and anxiety are more likely to live shorter lives, in part due to behaviors that can accompany these conditions: poor diet, little exercise, and drug and alcohol use.  

Yanek says the opposite may be true for people without depression and anxiety. They may take better care of themselves because they have the energy to do so, but remember that subjects in her study had many of the risk factors for heart disease but they didn’t manifest as serious medical events. 

While the Johns Hopkins team doesn’t know just how a sunnier disposition improves heart health, they said their research provides insight into the powerful connection between mind and body. 

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