Optimism Boosts Heart Health

Over the last few decades numerous studies have shown negative states, such as depression, anger, anxiety, and hostility, to be detrimental to heart health.


In the first systematic review on this topic to date, Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that positive psychological well-being appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.


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Harvard Study Links Optimism to Heart Health


“The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD…,” said lead author Julia Boehm, research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health . “For example, the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers,” she said.

Julia Boehm, PhD


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In a review of more than 200 studies, Boehm and senior author Laura Kubzansky, an associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health, found there are psychological assets, like optimism and positive emotion, that afford protection against cardiovascular disease. It also appears that these factors slow the progression of heart disease. The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.


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The Harvard researchers also investigated well-being’s association with cardiovascular-related health behaviors and biological markers. They found that individuals with a sense of well-being engaged in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, greater well-being was related to better biological function, such as lower blood pressure, healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles, and normal body weight.


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“The Heart’s Content: The Association between Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Health,” Julia K. Boehm and Laura D. Kubzansky, Psychological Bulletin, online April 17, 2012, Published by the American Psychological Association, Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard School of Public Health


The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio through the grant “Exploring Concepts of Positive Health.”


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