Being Happy Helps the Heart

Coronary artery disease risk cut by more than 30 percent in cheerful people

(RxWiki News) Most times, it's much more pleasant to be around cheerful people. Naturally, cheeriness is positive, and it could actually impact the chances of developing heart troubles.

People who have a more cheerful temperament cut their chances of having coronary artery disease by a third.

This is compared to those who aren't as happy, a recent study found.

The study is the first to show how positive well-being affects coronary artery disease risk, according to the researchers.

"Treat yourself occasionally to something nice."

The study, led by Lisa Yanek, MPH, from the GeneSTAR Research Program in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, aimed to see if positive emotions could protect against coronary artery disease, a condition that causes the narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to the heart.

The researchers tracked the number of coronary artery disease cases in two different groups: one group that was considered healthy at the start of the study and one group that represented the population of the US.

In the first part of this study, the researchers screened more than 1,400 siblings of patients who had documented cases of early-onset coronary artery disease. The siblings came from 778 families.

Each of the participants completed surveys asking them about their well-being on a scale of 0 to 110. In the study, well-being was defined as being optimistic, happiness, satisfaction with life and vitality.

The participants were asked about their mood level, concern about health and life satisfaction. Other questions asked participants about their energy level and whether they felt relaxed or anxious.

The siblings were categorized into one of three groups based on their risk for developing coronary artery disease. The researchers followed the siblings for five to 25 years.

The happiest siblings were defined as those who scored best on the well-being survey. They were significantly less likely to develop coronary artery disease than siblings who scored the worst, the researchers found.

The happiest siblings were about 33 percent less likely to develop the heart condition compared to the least happy siblings, even after taking gender, age and race into account.

Siblings of people who had early-onset coronary artery disease were twice as likely to develop the condition themselves.

In the second part of the study involving the US population at large, the researchers used data from almost 6,000 individuals who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and Epidemiologic Follow-up Study.

Among 20.5 percent of these participants, 1,226 coronary events occurred. Those who had a cheerful temperament were 13 percent less likely to have had a coronary event. 

"The average well-being scores were greater in the general population sample than in the high-risk family cohort, making it even more notable to find a protective effect in both groups," the researchers wrote in their report.

"Although the extent of protection was smaller in the general population sample than in the high-risk cohort, the effect was still statistically significant in both groups," they wrote.

The researchers noted a couple of limitations to their study, including that the two different groups studied used slightly different ways to measure the level of smoking, education, physical activity and fat level. The researchers were also missing blood pressure data.

This study was published online June 28 in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center for Research Resources to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine General Clinical Research Cent.

No conflicts of interest were declared.

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Review Date: 
July 11, 2013