Smile … and your heart smiles with you
Special to The Union
I guess we ordinary people always suspected it – moods can effect our heart health. But we heard this is a downer way – people dying of broken hearts and other bummers.
However, what’s getting attention on the medical landscape these days is the opposite idea – people can live longer because of a happy heart. The Rx suggested here is joy, pleasure, contentment and yes, happiness.
Well, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York followed 1,739 healthy adults over 10 years, taking periodic measurements of their negative emotions – depression, hostility, anxiety – and their positive emotions – joy, enthusiasm and pleasure. They also monitored the state of individual heart health or heart disease. Without boring you with details about how they controlled for this or that, what they found was a correlation between the state of the emotions and the health of the heart. Happier people had healthier hearts.
This finding, if further strengthened by clinical trials, could have major implications for the treatment of heart disease. If heart troubles can be prevented by boosting positive emotions, will doctors prescribe HBO comedy specials, lovable Labrador retrievers or whatever else floats your happiness boat?
The team’s leader, Karina Davidson, Ph.D., said the study was the first to examine the relationship between clinically-assessed positive emotions and heart disease. She called for more research, but said people should try and put fun into their daily routines, rather than enjoying life in short bursts.
“Some people wait for their two weeks of vacation to have fun and that would be analogous to binge drinking,” she said. “If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule. Essentially, spending a few minutes each day truly relaxing and enjoying yourself is good for your mental health and may improve your physical health as well.”
No. This study is regarded by the cardiac community as the one that most clearly suggests happier people have lower rates of heart disease. But a correlation does not prove cause and effect and certainly more research is needed to prove that happiness is an evidence-based Rx for heart disease. Also note: this study does not mean any of us can ignore established risk factors – smoking, inactivity and wallowing in saturated fat – my once favorite form of edible entertainment.
You already know what makes you happy. Unless you have a heroin habit, do those things more often.
If I follow my own advice – I always try to – I’ll hang out in plant nurseries for some botanical therapy, plan a summer garden, listen to jazz, sit on my deck and do nothing, and laugh with Cranky Pants, who is not really cranky.
But I bet you knew that too.
Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book “Hot Granny” is available at The Book Seller in Grass Valley. Visit Mel at http://www.melwalsh.com.
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