Updated: 19/04/12 : 10:06:39
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Happy people have happy hearts

Having a positive outlook on life could keep your heart healthy, according to new research from the US.

A study from Harvard University suggests that optimism, happiness and other positive emotions may lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It also appears that psychological wellbeing delays the progress of cardiovascular disease.

While numerous studies have shown negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression may be bad for heart health, much less is known about how positive psychological states are related to cardiovascular disease.

Doctors at Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts reviewed hundreds of medical trial databases to find studies that had recorded psychological wellbeing and heart health.

They discovered that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness appeared to be linked with a reduced risk of heart and circulatory diseases, regardless of a person's age, socio-economic status, smoking status or body weight.

Disease risk was 50% lower among the most optimistic individuals.

Julia Boehm, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health said that "the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers."

According to Boehm, the absence of a negative psychological state is not the same as having a positive one.

The researcher team says that positive psychological wellbeing "protects consistently against CVD, independently of traditional risk factors and ill-being", and that specifically, "optimism is most robustly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events".

The research also shows that people with a sense of well-being are more likely to exercise, follow a balanced diet, and get enough sleep and that more positive well-being was linked to lower blood pressure, healthier blood fat profiles, and normal body weight.

The findings have strong implications for how we intervene in public health and suggest a possible need for "an emphasis on bolstering psychological strengths rather than simply mitigating psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health".

The study appeared online in the journal Psychological Bulletin.