A review paper recently published in the American Journal of Cardiology has shown that patients who maintain a positive mind and positive feelings with the help of intervention programmes have better cardiovascular health outcomes.
The Review Findings
The review’s authors aimed to investigate whether there was a consistent link between mental well-being and reduced cardiovascular disease risk. In this review, cardiovascular health was defined in two parts. One part focused on factors such as diet, smoking, exercise and body mass index and was termed “health behaviours”. Another termed “health factors” focused on vital signs such as blood pressure, total cholesterol and glucose readings.
The authors looked at available research to assess this link and found a few prospective studies, such as a 2017 study that examined the association between a positive mind or optimism (considered one aspect of mental well-being) and heart disease risk in older women. The results of the study showed that women who were in the quartile with the highest levels of optimism had a 38 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease. Furthermore, some studies published from 2012 also showed a reduced risk of stroke in people who perceived themselves to have a higher purpose in life.
The authors also found that higher levels of mental well-being were associated with better health behaviours including a reduced risk of smoking and a higher likelihood of engaging in regular physical activity and eating healthily (which also helps in maintaining a healthy weight). In addition to better health behaviours, increased mental well-being was also found to positively impact the biological processes that affect cardiovascular health.
The review’s lead author, Darwin R. Labarthe, MD, MPH, PhD, professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine explains the effects of mental well-being on cardiovascular health by saying that people with higher levels of optimism are able to manage their stressors by planning and using other problem-solving techniques. But others, according to him, may use strategies that are detrimental to their health causing increased inflammation in their bodies, eventually leading to poorer heart health outcomes.
The authors also highlighted the significant role of having a strong social network appeared to play in positively influencing cardiovascular health. According to them, having strong social networks makes patients likelier to act on medical advice, have a more optimistic outlook on their health and also helps the,m develop better health and problem-solving habits.
Intervention programmes for patients such as mindfulness programmes have also been shown to improve their mental well-being and health behaviours. The authors also found this to be the case for terminally ill patients in palliative care who have shown general improvement in their overall well-being, mental health and physical symptoms. Dr Labarthe says that although getting patients to focus on improving their mental well-being in the face of a new diagnosis can be challenging, these events can become “teachable moments” for them. He also says that patient-focused discussions that focus on improving mental well-being are a small but important part of patient care.
Medical diagnosis or not, we can all take something home from this: Staying positive or at least trying to do things to help us be that way is good for us. The happier we are, the healthier we feel and the better we treat our bodies. Investing in a positive mind is worth it.