If such negative psycho-social factors as stress, depression, or anxiety increase your risk of heart disease, then it only stands to reason that the converse is true and removing negative influences - and replacing them with the positive - would decrease your risk of heart disease. While this conclusion may just seem common sense, it’s a question that researchers examined as a part of the Whitehill II study. Researchers found what many of us have suspected all along: happiness and enjoying your life is not only good for the soul – it’s good for your heart as well.
The Whitehill II study, also known as the Health and Stress study began in 1985 in England. Led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, the purpose of the study was to examine how social class - both present and previous - impact your health and quality of life as you age. Funded by grants from entities such as the National Institute on Aging-NIA, USA, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute-NHLBI, USA, British Heart Foundation-BHF, and the Medical Research Council-MRC, researchers follow a group of more than 10,300 British civil servants consisting of both men and women.
In the current Whitehall II study, researchers examined the role that general happiness and satisfaction with your day-to-day life play on your health as you age. The average age of participants in this study was 49 years old. Researchers asked almost 8,000 participants how happy or satisfied they were with their day-to-day lives. In all, seven life domains were examined: “love relationships, leisure activities, standard of living, job, family, sex, and one’s self.” (Science Daily 1.) Satisfaction was rated on a scale of one to seven with seven being “very satisfied” and one “very dissatisfied.” In addition to rankings for each individual life domain, researchers combined scores for all domains and assigned an overall satisfaction rate for life in general.
Follow-up with participant occurred at approximately six years with an examination of patient records, hospital data, registry links, and medication screenings. Participant records were specifically examined for whether or not there were instances of heart related death, angina, and non-fatal heart attack. Not surprisingly, researchers found a direct and significant, correlation between happiness and satisfaction with life and the risk of heart disease. Participants who were the most satisfied with life showed a 13 percent drop in the risk of heart disease. This 13 percent reduction of heart risk was also found with participants who reported satisfaction in the following four life domains: job, family, sex, and self. The results held true for both male and female participants. Researchers also found that the reduction in risk was specific to a reduced risk of angina and no other heart related events.
The results suggest that heart health can be improved by satisfaction with life – particularly in the areas of job, family, sex, and self. Researchers indicate that their next steps will be to examine how life satisfaction impacts development of atherosclerosis and whether unhappiness with life might be the culprit when it comes to plaque ruptures. In the meantime, most of us won’t need to wait for a doctor’s prescription to seek happiness. Seeking happiness and satisfaction in these life domains will not only improve your heart health, but your quality of life as well.
European Society of Cardiology (2011, July 4). Satisfaction with the components of everyday life appears protective against heart disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110705071741.htm
Whitehall II, The Whitehall II, 27 Apr 2011, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/whitehallII/
Julia K Boehm, Christopher Peterson, Mika Kivimaki, and Laura D. Kubazansky, Heart health when life is satisfying: evidence from the Whitehall II cohort study, European Heart Journal, 04 Jul 2011, http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/06/29/eurheartj.ehr203.abstract
Reviewed July 6, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton