By Dr. Mercola
Having a positive outlook and a cheerful disposition isn't only a happier way to live your life – it's a healthier way as well.
The connection between optimism and other positive emotions and good health has been firmly established by scientific research, and the link appears to be particularly strong when it comes to heart health. Being lighthearted, it turns out, is one of the best ways to protect your heart.
Positive Well-Being Reduces Heart Attack and Other Coronary Events by One-Third
In a study of nearly 1,500 people with an increased risk of early-onset coronary artery disease, those who reported being cheerful, relaxed, satisfied with life and full of energy had a one-third reduction in coronary events like a heart attack.
Those with the highest risk of coronary events enjoyed an even greater risk reduction of nearly 50 percent. This was true even when other heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, age and diabetes, were taken into account. The study's lead author noted:1
"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. A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result."
This is but one study to find a strong connection between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular (and overall) health. Separate research has similarly found:
- Positive psychological well-being is associated with a consistent reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)2
- Emotional vitality may protect against risk of CHD in men and women3
- Cheerful heart disease patients live longer than pessimistic heart patients4
- Very optimistic people have lower risks of dying from any cause, as well as lower risks of dying from heart disease, compared to highly pessimistic people5
Why Is Positive Well-Being Protective to Your Heart?
Every one of us will encounter personal tragedies in our lives. Applying the inverse paranoid principle, as taught by W. Clement Stone, has been a guiding helpful principle for me for many years to help address life's challenges. Admittedly, it isn't always easy, but the benefits are profound.
Unlike a conventional paranoid who believes the world is out to get him, an inverse paranoid believes the opposite: that every awful tragedy that befalls you ultimately is for some purpose that will benefit you far more than you can possibly imagine, even if you are unable to see it at the time.
There are several theories why a positive outlook is protective for your heart, including that happier people may take better care of themselves and be more likely to lead healthier lifestyles overall. However, at least one of the studies above accounted for these differences and still found optimism to be protective.
It's likely that positive mood exerts some type of beneficial biological changes in your body, but researchers aren't yet sure exactly what they are. At least part of the answer likely has to do with stress, or rather, lower levels of it in people who are more optimistic.
All of your feelings, positive or negative, come with corresponding physiological changes. Your skin, heart rate, digestion, joints, muscle energy levels, the hair on your head, and countless cells and systems you don't even know about change with every emotion.
Stress plays a major role in your immune system, and can impact your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, and hormonal balance. It can even "break" your heart, and is increasingly being viewed as a cardiovascular risk marker. So regular stress relief is imperative to protecting your heart health.
Extreme Stress Is Linked to Heart Problems
Mounting research shows that people exposed to traumatic and/or long-term stressors, such as combat veterans, New Orleans residents who went through Hurricane Katrina, and Greeks struggling through financial turmoil, have higher rates of cardiac problems than the general population.
Several such studies were recently discussed at the 2013 American College of Cardiology conference in San Francisco. In one study, which involved nearly 208,000 veterans aged 46 to 74, 35 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) developed insulin resistance in two years, compared to only 19 percent of those not diagnosed with PTSD.6
Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes and hardening of the arteries. PTSD sufferers also had higher rates of metabolic syndrome — a collection of risk factors that raise your risk of heart disease, such as high body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. More than half (about 53 percent) of veterans with PTSD had several of these symptoms, compared to 37 percent of those not suffering with PTSD.
Extreme grief, regardless of the cause, can actually "break" your heart as well. In comparing how grief affects your heart disease risk within a period of time, researchers found that losing a significant person in your life raises your risk of having a heart attack the next day by 21 times, and in the following week by 6 times.7 The risk of heart attacks began to decline after about a month had passed, perhaps as levels of stress hormones begin to level out.
Positive Attitude Is One of the Top Seven Steps to Improve and Lengthen Your Life
Total Video Length: 1:19:14
Donwload Interview Transcript
The featured study's author suggested that you are born with a certain temperament, and if you're not naturally a positive person it can be difficult to change your personality into someone who is. I tend to disagree, however. It's not always easy, but you can choose to be happy, and in the vast majority of circumstances there's no one who can stop you except for yourself. David Kekich, founder of the Maximum Life Foundation, recommends the following seven steps to increase the quality and quantity of your life. I invite you to listen to my interview with David, above, for more details.
1. Appropriate diet 2. Exercise 3. Sensible supplementation 4. Lifestyle habits such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight 5. Seeing an anti-aging physician 6. Stress management 7. Attitude/positive thoughts
22 Secrets of Happy People
The truth is, happiness doesn't come from wealth, perfect looks or even a perfect relationship. Happiness comes from within. This is why, if you truly want to be happy, you need to work on yourself, first. And the health benefits mentioned above, like a significantly reduced risk of heart attack and other cardiac events, should provide ample motivation for doing so. Those who are happy tend to follow a certain set of habits that create peace in their lives; if you learn to apply these habits in your own life, there's a good chance you'll be happier too.
1. Let go of grudges 2. Treat everyone with kindness 3. Regard your problems as challenges 4. Express gratitude for what you have 5. Dream big 6. Don't sweat the small stuff 7. Speak well of others 8. Avoid making excuses 9. Live in the present 10. Wake up at the same time every morning 11. Don't compare yourself to others 12. Surround yourself with positive people 13. Realize that you don't need others' approval 14. Take time to listen 15. Nurture social relationships 16. Meditate 17. Eat well 18. Exercise 19. Live minimally 20. Be honest 21. Establish personal control 22. Accept what cannot be changed