A recent study showing people with positive outlooks have better cardiovascular health does not surprise renowned cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall, who has found this to be true in his nearly three decades of practicing medicine.
“People who have a positive attitude live longer. Stress and unhappiness has a negative effect on the body, and this is now what research is showing,” says Dr. Crandall, who is chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Dr. Crandall was commenting on a study by Harvard researchers in this the journal Psychological Bulletin. The study found that people with optimistic and have positive outlooks have a 50 percent lower risk of suffering a first heart attack. This finding held true, no matter what their age, socioeconomic status, weight or smoking status.
According to Dr. Crandall, there is a biological reason for these findings. “People who have a positive outlook live longer. They have higher levels of positive chemicals in their body, like endorphins, and this reduces the risk of heart disease,” he said.
On the other hand, he noted, unhappy, stressed-out people have higher levels of cortisol and other negative hormones, that causes inflammation, their coronary arteries to narrow, and their blood platelets to clump together, all which increase the risk for a heart attack,” he said.
To further understand how psychological well-being and CVD might be related, the researchers also investigated the association of well-being with other cardiovascular-related health behaviors. They found that the optimistic people were more likely to have healthier behaviors. They ate a more balanced diet, were more inclined to exercise, and also got sufficient sleep. This translated into better biological functioning as well; those who were optimistic tended to have lower blood pressure, a healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles and normal body weight.
Although many believe that an optimistic outlook cannot be learned, Dr. Crandall strongly disagrees. However, it does take a conscious effort to do so, he said.
“You have to learn to stop and smell the roses, as they say,” said Dr. Crandall, noting that many lessons on this can be learned from the Bible. “All of these things that are written about in the Bible we are finding out, through scientific research, to be true and make sense,” said Dr. Crandall.
For instance, he noted, “Having a day of rest, having order in our lives, calms us down and prevents the chaos that not only drives heart disease, but also mental illness and depression,” he noted.
“The bottom line is that we need to focus on the positive and know that the body is a fantastic marvelous machine that wants to get better, and, if we assist it, things will get back in order,” Dr. Crandall added.