Happy Hearts

There is a long history and a strong literature linking psychological aspects of peoples’ lives and coronary heart disease. Early research found a connection between coronary heart disease and a personality characteristic called Type A. Type A personality is characterized by time urgency, strong competitive drive, and hostility. Though some of these characteristics are related to achievement at work and at school, Type A personality is not beneficial for cardiovascular health. In a now classic study, men with Type A behavior were found to be twice as likely to develop heart disease over an 8 ½ year follow-up period (Rosenman et al., 1975). Recently, researchers have turned their attention from negative aspects to connections between positive psychological aspects of peoples’ lives and coronary heart disease. In 2011, a team of researchers published results from a long-term study of nearly 8,000 British civil servants. They wanted to see if aspects of positive wellbeing predicted coronary heart disease outcomes over time. When they first joined the study, the individuals in the sample completed questionnaires that assessed their individual levels of emotional vitality and optimism. For the next five years, they were followed to assess coronary heart disease events. The researchers found that over those next five years, the participants’ original measured levels of optimism and emotional vitality predicted lower odds of coronary heart disease! These odds were greater for those higher in emotional vitality and optimism even when health behaviors and blood pressure were considered and controlled for. This suggests that positive psychological factors impact cardiovascular health like negative psychological factors do—fortunately in the opposite direction!

References:

Boehm, J. K., Peterson, C., Kivimaki, M., & Kubzansky, L. (2011). A prospective study of positive psychological well-being and coronary heart disease. Health Psychology, 30(3), 259-67.

Rosenman, R. H., Brand, R. J., Jenkins, C.D, Friedman, M., Straus, R., & Wurm, M. (1975). Coronary heart disease in the Western Collaborative Group Study: Final follow-up of 8 ½ years. Journal of the American Medical Association, 233, 872-877.