The Power of Positive Thinking
Here’s heartwarming news: People with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.
That’s the finding from Johns Hopkins expert Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., and her colleagues. The finding held even in people with family history who had the most risk factors for coronary artery disease, and positive people from the general population were 13 percent less likely than their negative counterparts to have a heart attack or other coronary event.
Yanek and her team determined “positive” versus “negative” outlook using a survey tool that assesses a person’s cheerfulness, energy level, anxiety levels and satisfaction with health and overall life. But you don’t need a survey to assess your own positivity, says Yanek. “I think people tend to know how they are.”
Hope and Your Heart
The mechanism for the connection between health and positivity remains murky, but researchers suspect that people who are more positive may be better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. Another possibility is that hope and positivity help people make better health and life decisions and focus more on long-term goals. Studies also find that negative emotions can weaken immune response.
What is clear, however, is that there is definitely a strong link between “positivity” and health. Additional studies have found that a positive attitude improves outcomes and life satisfaction across a spectrum of conditions—including traumatic brain injury, stroke and brain tumors.
Can You Boost Your Bright Side?
Although a positive personality is something we’re born with and not something we can inherently change, Yanek says, there are steps you can take to improve your outlook and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Simply smile more.
A University of Kansas study found that smiling—even fake smiling—reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. So try a few minutes of YouTube humor therapy when you’re stomping your feet waiting in line or fuming over a work or family situation. It’s difficult not to smile while watching a favorite funny video.
Instead of stressing about a traffic jam, for instance, appreciate the fact that you can afford a car and get to spend a few extra minutes listening to music or the news, accepting that there is absolutely nothing you can do about the traffic.
Resiliency is the ability to adapt to stressful and/or negative situations and losses. Experts recommend these key ways to build yours:
- Maintain good relationships with family and friends.
- Accept that change is a part of life.
- Take action on problems rather than just hoping they disappear or waiting for them to resolve themselves.
Cardiovascular (car-dee-oh-vas-cue-ler) disease: Problems of the heart or blood vessels, often caused by atherosclerosis—the build-up of fat deposits in artery walls—and by high blood pressure, which can weaken blood vessels, encourage atherosclerosis and make arteries stiff. Heart valve disorders, heart failure and off-beat heart rhythms (called arrhythmias) are also types of cardiovascular disease.
Immune response: How your immune system recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, toxins and other harmful substances. A response can include anything from coughing and sneezing to an increase in white blood cells, which attack foreign substances.