Positive emotions can keep you from ischemic diseases

Scientists claim that positive emotions can keep you from ischemic diseases and in general decrease the risk of cardiac diseases. It took the authors of the work ten years to gather these data.

People, who can enjoy their life, save their heart. It is the opinion of specialists of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center. Director of the centre, Professor Karina Davidson and her coworkers during 10-year investigation have proved the connection of the degree of people’s positive emotions with the risk of coronary (ischemic) heart diseases.

The investigation was carried out as a part of a large-scale project aimed at assessment of health in citizens of Canadian province Nova Scotia – Nova Scotia Health Survey, which started in 1995. Initial data was collected from 1,739 adults, both men (862) and women (877), whose average age was 46.2. All participants were healthy; none of them had previous problems with heart or vessels.

How often do you feel happy?

Specialists questioned the participants of the experiment, and the interview was video recorded at that for further analysis. Participants were asked questions connected with their everyday life, relations with other people, problems that make them worry. It was necessary to estimate how often people experienced positive emotional conditions, such as joy, pleasure, satisfaction, agitation, elation, enthusiasm, how often they feel happy.

During the interview not only answers to the questions that were considered, but also people’s reaction to them, including the fact if they were smiling during the talk, or on the contrary if they were stressed. All of these were further analyzed by the scientists on video records and every participant was given a summarized assessment of his/her positive emotions. The grades varied from 1 (indistinct positive emotions) to 5 (very strong positive emotions).

After the interview the participants underwent medical examination, during which they were checked for work of their heart, indexes of arterial pressure, cholesterol level, blood lipid profile, body weight index, etc. Their attitude to smoking was also considered. As it is well known, all of these belong to the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases.

Joy promotes health

During the first stage scientists already found certain regularities. The level of positive emotions was higher in women than in men, in non-smokers than in smokers, it was also negatively connected with the value of arterial pressure and cholesterol level. In general it can be concluded that individuals, who enjoy life more, are healthier.

In order to prove this statement, the participants of the experiment were observed for ten years. Although, they were not subjected to repetitive examinations, but all episodes of heart diseases were registered. During the whole period of group observation there were registered a total number of 145 cases of ischemic heart diseases, 9 of which were lethal.

Then the specialists applied statistical methods and conducted regression analysis, which connected the level of positive emotions and the risk of ischemic heart diseases. According to their estimation, the part of diseases decreases by 22% with increased level of positive emotions per each point. In other words, those who got 1 point (zero of positive emotions) risk to fall ill 22% more than those who got 2 and the latter – 22% more than those who got 3, and so on.

In order to explain the obtained results, scientists turn to several mechanisms. Firstly, high level of positive emotions provides better work of parasympathetic division of the nervous system (it decreases the frequency and power of heart rate at rest). Secondly, such individuals cope with stress faster and to not bring their organism to physical exhaustion. Thirdly, positive emotions provide healthy sleep.

It is interesting to know that high level of positive emotions not in the least means the absence of negative ones. Individuals, who experience joy and happiness more often than the other, were not completely delivered from fear, rage, dissatisfaction, etc. It looks like both types of emotions act independently. But whereas harmful influence of stress on vital activity of the organism has was demonstrated long ago, influence of joy has not been sufficiently studied.

In spite of methodological of the investigation, mentioned by Karina Davidson (in particular, that examinations of the participants and their interview were conducted only in the beginning of the experiment, and in ten-year period many things could have changed), she thinks that it is possible to give unconditionally useful recommendations to those people, who care about health of their heart.

These recommendations are simple ones: 

do what makes you happy more often, whether it is an interesting hobby, speaking with your friends, reading, travelling, going in for sports, even a little of good alcohol will not do you bad. 


Adopted from: European Heart Journal