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A happy heart, a healthy heart

Thursday February 18th, 2010

Happy people enjoyed a significantly reduced risk of developing heart disease, according to a major study released today.

The findings confirm what has been suspected for many years - that temperament is linked to health.

Researchers found that happy and contented people enjoyed half the risk of developing heart disease of that faced by the most stressed and depressed people.

The findings, from a decade-long study of 1,700 healthy adults in Nova Scotia, Canada, showed the risk changed gradually between those who are happiest and those who are unhappiest. This suggests it is not just the effect of extreme depression causing heart disease.

Researchers used a five point scale of happiness and found a 22 per cent difference in risk between each point, according to the report in the European Heart Journal.

Researcher Dr Karina Davidson, of the Columbia University, New York, USA, called for people to have "pleasurable" activities in their daily lives - and not to leave it to weekends and holidays.

She said: "If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading in. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule.

"Essentially, spending some few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health, and may improve your physical health as well (although this is, as yet, not confirmed)."

British experts said it was not clear whether it would be possible for individuals to improve their health by improving their moods and happiness.

Ellen Mason, a senior cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, said people might find it easier to concentrate on other aspects of heart health, such as good diet, exercise and not smoking.

She said: "This research suggested that those who naturally had a 'glass half-full' mood seemed to be most protected from disease.

"But we're not all like that, and we know that improving your mood isn't always easy, so we don't know if it's possible to change our natural levels of positivity."

Other experts called for systematic randomised trials of "happiness." They argue it should be possible to provide direct assistance to some people to improve their contentment with life.

European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehp603.

Tags: General Health | Heart Health | Mental Health | North America | UK News

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