Happy Thoughts May Lead to Better Long-Term Heart Health, a New Study Claims

Photo: Stocksy/Lauren Naefe
The power of positivity has likely been extolled to you since kindergarten, and studies have uncovered links between a sunny disposition and health benefits, like that it can help battle inflammation and even improve the efficacy of your flu shot. Plus, a 98-year-old yogi credits her cheery attitude for her long life. Still not convinced you should prioritize an optimistic outlook? A new study has found a connection between the long-term health of people who have a certain heart condition and their degree of optimism.

The study—which will be presented this weekend at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session—examined about 2,400 people who have chronic angina, a chest condition wherein the heart doesn't receive enough oxygen, leading to chest pain or pressure, according to The Chronicle. The participants filled out a questionnaire about their quality of life, their condition, and how optimistic they were about their future health before undergoing an operation that opens blocked arteries. They then answered the same questionnaire one, six, and twelve months after the surgery .

The most optimistic patients experienced less angina and were less likely to have histories of heart attacks, heart failure, diabetes, and chronic kidney diseases, the study showed. Those who identified as optimistic were 40 percent less likely to be hospitalized with angina or to require surgery.

The results—782 participants were most optimistic, 1000 were somewhat optimistic, 451 were undecided, and 123 were not optimistic—not only showed that they reported the same opinions on each questionnaire, but that the most optimistic patients reported lower levels of angina. And, even after factoring in that members of optimistic group tended toward being healthier in general, they reportedly were still 30 percent less likely to end up back in the hospital.

"What you find is that patients that have better expectations for recovering have better long-term outcomes," Alexander Fanaroff, MD, lead study author and Duke University Medical Center fellow, told the Chronicle.

While this study doesn't prove causality in either direction—people may feel optimistic because they experience less severe side effects and have a better health history and thus have less reason to experience negative thoughts—and more research is required to explore the still-tenuous connection between attitude and heart health, it's worth noting that a high level of optimism may lead person to make healthy lifestyle choices.

“If you don't think you’re going to get better, maybe you’ll continue to not exercise or smoke cigarettes,” Dr. Fanaroff said.

And, at the very least, there isn't a negative side effect to positive thinking, right?

Trying to become more optimistic? Here are seven practices to help you get there and a beginner's guide for the pessimist.

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