A smiling face can mean a healthy heart. That’s the key conclusion of new research showing people with cheerful temperaments are significantly less likely to suffer a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.
The study, by Johns Hopkins researchers, is the latest to associate a positive outlook with better health and a lower risk of premature death.
Previous research has shown depressed and anxious people are more likely to have heart attacks and die from them than those with brighter dispositions. But the Johns Hopkins researchers say their study is among the first to indicate that a general sense of well-being — feeling cheerful, relaxed, energetic, and satisfied with life — actually reduces the chances of a heart attack.
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"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," said Lisa R. Yanek, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology. "A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result."
Some health experts have suggested people with a positive outlook are more likely to take better care of themselves and have more energy to do so. But Yanek emphasized that the mechanisms behind the protective effect of positive well-being remain unclear, adding that future research into the interactions between mind and body may offer clues.
For the study, Yanek and her colleagues analyzed information gathered from 1,483 healthy siblings of people who had heart problems before the age of 60 and who were followed for up to 25 years. Study participants were surveyed about their mood, health, anxiety and energy levels, and overall life satisfaction.
Over the course of the study, 208 heart attacks and other cardiac problems were reported among the participants. Those individuals who reported a generally positive outlook were a third less likely to have heart problems; that rate rose to 50 percent for those who scored the highest in terms of life satisfaction.
The findings held true regardless of whether the participants were white or African-American, men or women.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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