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Psychological wellbeing and heart health: Are they inter-related?

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 31 March 2021

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A complete well-being is a state where the mind is happy and the body is healthy. While a lot of research has been done to find out the mind-body connection, a recent study stated that the health of the heart is directly related to the health of the mind.

In a recent statement published by the American Heart Association on 9th March 2021 in the journal Circulation, it was concluded that sound psychological health can reduce the risk of developing heart diseases.

Which psychological factors increase the risk of cardiovascular events?

Numerous studies have concluded that mental health disorders and negative psychology can have a deleterious impact on cardiovascular health. Some psychological factors that may affect heart health include:

1. Stress: Stress can result from numerous sources such as problems at work, financial hardships, troubled relationships, financial hardships, and discrimination. A study published in the journal Lancet in 2017 concluded that people with high levels of stress are at high risk of developing heart disease, irrespective of other risk factors. They found that due to stress, there is increased activity in the amygdala (a part of the mid-brain) which promotes inflammation in the arteries and the bone marrow. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has also been associated with the development of heart diseases.

2. Anger: Studies have shown that anger and hostility can increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke and ventricular arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) within 2 hours after an outburst of anger. An episode of anger outburst may increase blood pressure and heart rate resulting in adverse cardiovascular events.

3. Anxiety: Anxiety is believed to be a risk factor for high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, and smoking, which can ultimately result in atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries of the heart). A large study including more than 2 million participants concluded that anxiety can result in the development of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure.

4. Depression: Several studies conducted in the past have concluded that depression increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

5. Pessimism: An 11-year long study from Finland found that pessimistic people were twice at risk of dying from coronary heart disease as compared to the optimistic participants.

Does positive psychological health benefit the heart?

Multiple studies have shown that positive psychological factors such as happiness, optimism, sense of purpose, emotional vitality, satisfaction, gratitude, resilience, and mindfulness can help improve cardiovascular health. Psychological factors that may help improve heart health include:

1. Optimism: Multiple studies have found that optimism helps in achieving heart-healthy behaviours such as increased physical activity, consumption of a healthy diet, and having a better quality of sleep. A meta-analysis involving 15 studies and more than 200000 participants concluded that people with high levels of optimism have a 35% reduced risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

2. Happiness: Research reveals happy people tend to get better sleep, eat healthily, exercise more and are less likely to indulge in smoking. In a cohort study, it was found that happy and positive individuals were 22% less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease.

3. Sense of purpose: It has been found that people with greater sense of purpose in life are more likely to engage in a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes being physically active, avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption, and maintaining blood glucose levels. This heart-healthy behaviour has been associated with longevity and reduced risk of both heart attack and stroke.

4. Mindfulness: Mindfulness has been associated with lower stress levels, more empathy and improved overall well-being.

What can be done to improve psychological health?

People who have been clinically diagnosed with a psychological disorder may be prescribed antidepressant drugs along with psychotherapy and depression care management programs to improve their mental health. Things that may help improve psychological as well as heart health include:

  • Psychotherapy: In psychotherapy, the doctors use cognitive behavioural therapy which focuses on reducing stress and anxiety by changing the negative thoughts and behaviour of the patient into a positive one.
  • Positive psychology programs: In these programs, the counsellors use the strengths of the patient and make them recall the positive events of their life to improve those psychological attributes (optimism and positivity) which have been associated with better heart health.
  • Mindfulness: As per the AHA, meditation is an easily accessible, low-risk intervention that can help reduce the risk of several heart diseases, which may develop due to psychological disorders.

Other than these therapies, regular exercising, and consuming a diet loaded with vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains not only helps in reducing the symptoms of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety but also improves heart health.

Conclusion

Numerous studies have confirmed that there is a link between psychological well-being and heart health. Thus, doctors must assess the psychological health of heart patients routinely. Antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy should be recommended to people showing signs of mental health disorders. People diagnosed with heart disease must consume healthy food, exercise regularly, get proper sleep, reduce the use of alcohol, and spend time with loved ones.

Further research needs to be done to determine the mechanism by which the positive and negative psychological factors affect cardiovascular health. Scientists believe that it is necessary to determine which psychological interventions are most effective in improving heart health.

For any questions on mental health, you can speak to our mental health expert. And for any queries on heart health, you can consult a cardiologist.

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