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Heart Health

Positive Thinking and Cardiovascular Health

Maintaining positive thoughts and feelings during treatment can help patients achieve better overall outcomes when it comes to their cardiovascular health, according to a research review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in September.

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The authors examined a growing body of research to determine whether psychological well-being might lead to reduced risk of heart disease. Prospective studies have shown a positive relationship between optimism (one facet of psychological well-being) and heart disease, including a 2017 study showing that the most optimistic older women had a 38 percent reduced risk of heart disease mortality. Additional studies since 2012 have associated a perceived higher purpose in life with lower odds of having a stroke.

Having a strong network of social support also gives patients confidence about their future health and helps them act readily on medical advice, engage in problem-solving, and take active preventive measures. A likely link is that favorable social environment, known to influence heart disease risk, has also been shown to predict psychological well-being.

The authors said intervention programs may strengthen psychological well-being. Mindfulness programs have been shown to improve anxiety, quality of life, smoking cessation, healthy eating, and more. Yoga and tai chi, often incorporated in mindfulness-based interventions, have improved outcomes in heart failure patients and lowered blood pressure.

“It may seem challenging to help patients modify psychological well-being in the face of a new medical diagnosis, but these events can represent a teachable moment,” said Darwin R. Labarthe, MD, MPH, PhD, professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University and the review’s lead author. “Just having patient-centered discussions surrounding sources of psychological well-being and information about specific activities to promote well-being are a small, but meaningful, part of a patient’s care.”