Optimism – a healthy boost to your heart

by Dr. Mercola

DrMercola• Mounting research reveals that you cannot separate your health from your emotions and numerous studies support the idea that having an upbeat and positive perspective can translate into living a longer healthier life. For example, in one older study, pessimism was linked to a 19 percent higher risk of dying over a 30-year period.

After examining the associations between optimism and heart health in more than 5,100 adults of various ethnic groups for 11 years, researchers at the University of Illinois report that people who display a more optimistic can-do attitude in life experience significantly better cardiovascular health over the long term.

People who were the most optimistic were up to 76 percent more likely to have a total health score in the ideal range. The health scores were based on seven metrics used by the American Heart Association (AHA) to define heart health.

This includes blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, serum cholesterol levels, diet, exercise and smoking. According to study author Rosalba Hernandez, “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts. This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health… At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates.

This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur through a bio-behavioral mechanism, suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being – e.g., optimism – may be a potential avenue for AHA [American Heart Association] to reach its goal of improving Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent before 2020.”

Can you die from a broken heart?

If optimism and happiness can boost your heart health, what about the more extreme of negative emotions: grief? You sometimes hear stories of elderly partners dying within weeks, days or even hours of each other or people who suffer deadly cardiac events following some other severe emotional blow.

But can you really die from a “broken heart?” Researchers say yes. Losing a significant person in your life raises your risk of having a heart attack the next day by 21 times and in the following week by six times. The abrupt increase in risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack following a heartbreak is thought to be related to the flood of stress hormones your body is exposed to.

For instance, adrenaline increases your blood pressure and your heart rate and it’s been suggested that it may lead to narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to your heart or even bind directly to heart cells allowing large amounts of calcium to enter and render the cells temporarily unable to function properly.

The risk of a heart attack begins to decline after about a month, likely because the levels of stress hormones start to level back out. The loss of a loved one also increases your risk of stress cardiomyopathy, which is sometimes referred to as “broken heart syndrome.”

The symptoms of stress cardiomyopathy are very similar to those of a typical heart attack, including chest pain, shortness of breath, low blood pressure and even congestive heart failure. There are some key differences, however. In broken heart syndrome, the symptoms occur shortly after an extremely stressful event, such as a death in the family, serious financial loss, extreme anger, a serious medical diagnosis or a car accident or other trauma.

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