Cheer Up And Get Heart Healthy!
July 10, 2013

Cheerful People Less Likely To Suffer Cardiac Events

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A new study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reveals that people with cheerful temperaments are significantly less likely to suffer a coronary event such as a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

People who are anxious or depressed are more likely to have heart attacks and die from them than those whose dispositions are lighter, prior studies have shown. The new study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, reveals that a general sense of well-being, such as being cheerful, relaxed, energetic and satisfied with life, actually reduces the risk of a heart attack.

"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," says Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result."

Cheerful personalities, says Yanek, are most likely part of the temperament we are born with and not something easily changed. Some have suggested that people lucky enough to have such a trait are more likely to care for themselves better and have the energy to do so. However, Yanek says her research shows that people with higher levels of well-being still had many risk factors for coronary disease but had fewer serious heart events.

Yanek and her colleagues emphasize that the mechanisms underlying the protective effect of positive well-being remain unclear. The research, however, offers insights into the interactions between mind and body, and could yield clues to those mechanisms in the future.

The research team analyzed data from GeneSTAR - Genetic Study of Atherosclerosis Risk - a 25-year Johns Hopkins project to determine the roots of heart disease in people with a family history of coronary disease. Information gathered from 1,483 healthy siblings of people who had coronary events before the age of 60, who were then followed for 25 years, was analyzed. The siblings of patients with early-onset coronary artery disease (CAD) have twice the risk of developing it themselves.

As part of the study, participants filled out a well-being survey and were scored, on a scale of 0 to 110, for cheerful mood, level of concern about health, whether they were relaxed as opposed to anxious, energy level and life satisfaction. The research team documented 208 coronary events over the course of an average 12 year follow up in the sibling group - including heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, acute coronary syndrome, and the need for stents or bypass surgery.

Participants' positive well-being was found to be associated with a one-third reduction in risk of coronary events; among those deemed at the highest risk for a coronary event, there was nearly a 50 percent reduction. Other risk factors, such as age, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, were taken into account.

The team looked at similar information in a general population using data from 5,992 participants in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to validate their results. Over a 16-year average follow up, there were 1,226 coronary events, constituting 20.5 percent of the population. This group also benefitted from a cheerful temperament, the team found, which reduced their risk of a coronary event by 13 percent.

The study findings were consistent whether the participants were white, African-American, men or women.