Turn That Frown Upside Down! It's Good for Your Heart


During National Heart Month, more attention is being placed on the risks for heart disease. Change your diet, get more exercise, quit smoking. Oh, and did we mention – be happy and stay positive.

Dr. Karina Davidson and researchers from Columbia University, who published their findings in the February issue of the European Heart Journal, monitored the health of 1,739 people from the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey over the course of 10 years, finding that the most anxious and depressed were at the highest risk of developing heart disease.

At the start of the study, the participants were assessed for negative emotions such as depression, anxiousness, and hostility and positive emotions like joy, enthusiasm and contentment. The positive emotions were rated on a five-point scale. For each rise in the “happiness scale”, there was an associated 22% lower risk of developing heart disease.


The study did have limitations and Dr. Davidson admits that there needs to be more research in this area, however the theory is that happier people likely take better care of their health, have better sleeping patterns, and have a greater ability to move on from stress and upsetting events. In other research, positive affect has been linked to a stronger immune system and higher survival rates.

Stress, depression, anxiety and anger have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, according to Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Stress releases hormones that can damage the heart muscle and can cause plaque in the arteries. “The findings are intriguing,” he says. “The clinical significance will depend on whether it can be subsequently shown that interventions designed to increase positive affect can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Some health experts suggest that this study may lead people to believe that simply changing their mood will eliminate their chances of getting heart disease. A cardiologist for the British Cardiovascular Society says “Things like reducing cholesterol and diabetes are more important when it comes to reducing heart disease.” Obviously lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight are negatively associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. However, he does add that “heart disease is still the biggest killer in the UK, so anything you can do to help should not be ignored.”

Dr. Davidson says that it doesn’t take much to improve your mood. “Essentially spending a few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health and may improve your physical health as well.”

According to the most recent statistics from the American Heart Association, over 17 million Americans were living with coronary heart disease in 2006, and over 140,000 died from a heart attack. All cardiovascular disease, including strokes, accounted for one in every 2.9 deaths in the United States in that year.