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Smile Your Way to a Healthy Heart

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 healthy-heart-accompanied-by-a-smile iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Do you view the world through rose-colored glasses? Is your cup always half full? Is life so good that the only way it could be better is if you were a twin?

If you’re one of those people who always look for the silver lining, you just may find unexpected benefits to your heart health.

According to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health, optimism and a positive outlook on life have the added benefit of lowering the risk of heart disease and slowing disease progression.

Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is the number one killer in the United States, responsible for approximately 599,000 deaths annually. This equates to 2,200 deaths daily with someone dying of CVD every 39 seconds.

Strokes account for an additional 123,000 deaths annually, or 1 in 18 deaths.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the impact of negative emotions -- anger, depression, aggression, hostility -- on heart health. It’s generally accepted that such emotions have a negative impact your heart health.

In the largest study of its kind, the Harvard School of Public Health, or HSPH, just completed a review of how positive emotions affect your heart health.

Researchers found that a positive outlook on life had a direct correlation on risk of CVD in comparison to their more negative peers.

Led by lead author Julia Boehm, a research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, and senior author Laura Kubzansky, associate professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH, researchers reviewed records from over 200 different published studies.

Researchers found that people with a positive outlook on life enjoyed a reduced risk of CVD-related events such as stroke and heart attack. The most optimistic individuals enjoyed approximately a 50 percent risk reduction for a CVD-related event compared to their less positive peers.

As a part of the study, researchers examined numerous factors such as overall happiness, satisfaction with life, and optimism. Positive psychological well-being was linked to a lower risk of CVD-related events regardless of other risk factors for CVD.

In addition, the presence of positive emotions also had the added benefit of slowing disease progression. Researchers also noted that simply not being negative doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re happy.

The greatest benefits were found in persons who genuinely exhibited a positive outlook on life.

The connection between the influence of the mind and emotions on the body is not completely understood and despite the study findings, researchers stop short of recommending a daily dose of happiness and smiles to maintain a healthy heart.

In the meantime, those persons choosing to live with their happiness filter wide open will continue to enjoy a reduced risk of CVD as they smile behind those rose-colored glasses.

Study results were published online April 17, 2012 in Psychological Bulletin. The Heart’s Content: The Association between Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Health,” Julia K. Boehm and Laura D. Kubzansky, Psychological Bulletin, online April 17, 2012.


Ryan Jaslow. Optimism protects against heart attack and stroke, study shows. CBSNews.com. 18 Apr 2012.

Positive Feelings May Help Protect Cardiovascular Health. Harvard School of Public Health. 17 Apr 2012.

Reviewed April 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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