Cardiovascular disease kills more than 17 million people worldwide each year, making it the globe’s No. 1 killer, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). That includes about one-third of all deaths annually in the United States. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
Besides a healthy diet and exercise, there are two unexpected ways your heart health could improve: positivity and gratitude. Both benefit your cardiovascular health, according to recent research.
If You’re Happy and You Know It, Tell Your Heart
People with an optimistic outlook on life have much healthier cardiovascular systems, including significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels, recent research shows.
“Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” University of Illinois Professor Rosalba Hernandez, the study’s lead author, said in a university news release.
The study, Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), was published in January 2015 in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review. Total health was positively correlated with levels of optimism.
“At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates,” Hernandez said.
It is not the first to find a relationship between optimism and cardiovascular health. In a 2012 study, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that feelings such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction were linked to reductions in the risk of heart disease and stroke. Those feelings also appeared to slow the progression of cardiovascular disease.
Count Your Blessings
Feeling thankful can also lead to a healthier heart, according to recent research published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Acknowledging and appreciating the positive aspects of life was found to be linked to improved mood and sleep, and reduced levels of fatigue in heart disease patients, researchers found. At the microscopic level, gratitude was associated with reduced levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health. Inflammation can exacerbate heart failure.
The study, titled The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-Being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients, could have implications for physicians, healthcare administrators and other medical professionals dealing with the huge and costly issue of heart disease.
The researchers administered psychological tests to obtain gratitude and spiritual well-being scores for the patients, comparing those against the patients’ scores for depressive symptom severity, sleep quality, fatigue and inflammatory markers.
Patients who were more thankful and appreciative also had more self-efficacy, or belief in their ability to deal with the situation, the study found.
Some study participants were asked to maintain “gratitude journals,” writing down things for which they were thankful. Those patients also showed lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers.