A Positive Attitude Lifts the Heart

Heart disease patients who had a positive outlook were more likely to exercise and live longer

(RxWiki News) Don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking. Patients with cardiovascular disease who keep up a sunny view may increase physical activity and add years to their lives.

Previous research has shown that focusing on the positive may not only improve mental health but heart health as well.  For example, those who look on the bright side of life may find it lowers stress, which in turn may lower blood pressure.

Lending further support to past findings, a new study shows that heart patients who maintained good moods were more likely to be active and less likely to die or be hospitalized compared to those who did not have an optimistic outlook.

"Maintain a positive outlook to help improve heart health."

Susanne S. Pedersen, PhD, professor of cardiac psychology in the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and adjunct professor of cardiac psychology at the University of Southern Denmark and Odense University Hospital in Denmark, and her colleagues based their investigation on surveys completed by 600 coronary artery disease patients.

These patients had ischemic heart disease, meaning their arteries had narrowed or been blocked, restricting blood flow to the heart. All participants were from a single hospital in Denmark and answered questions regarding their moods.

After five years, the researchers observed that those with the best attitudes were more physically active and had 42 percent less chance of dying for any reason.

Deaths among the most positive were less than 10 percent, compared to 16.5 percent among those with less positive attitudes.

An optimistic outlook and exercise were also linked to lowering the rate of heart-related hospitalizations.

The authors mentioned that exercise seemed to improve heart health among both the happy and the sad. The differences in death rates among the upbeat and downbeat who exercised were not significant. Types and amounts of exercise, however, were not available from the data collected.

"We should focus not only on increasing positive attitude in cardiac rehabilitation, but also make sure that patients perform exercise on a regular basis, as exercise is associated with both increased levels of optimism and better health," said Dr. Pedersen in a press release.

She noted that mood and exercise may be a chicken-and-egg scenario — each boosting the other.

“Physical exercise may lead to a sense of well-being, which may occur through the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin,” Dr. Pedersen told dailyRx News. “Serotonin helps to regulate mood.”

In comments to dailyRx News, she added that patients might “...engage in conscious exercises that seek to induce positive mood,” such as “...thinking about things that make them feel good.”

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRx News, “Sometimes it's hard to put on a happy face, but other research shows us that sometimes you really can fake it 'til you make it. Just pretending to be in a good mood can often lead to healthier choices which in turn will make us feel better and keep the good work going. Choosing friends who are positive, rather than hanging out with others with a negative attitude, can also help."

She also said that keeping a positive outlook may help reduce some of the stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which may impact blood pressure, heart rate, sleep and stress eating, all of which are connected to heart disease.

Although the participants were mostly white and three-quarters were male, the researchers said that the results were likely to apply to a wider range of cardiac patients, including those living in the United States.

This study was published on September 10 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. The Research Council of the Region Sjælland, Danish Heart Foundation and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development funded the study.

Review Date: 
September 10, 2013