Earlier this month,
Crean College’s Dr.
Julia Boehm was featured on WAMC Northeast Public Radio in its Academic Minute segment. Dr. Boehm studies the correlation between mind and body, particularly whether being happy can make your heart healthier.
You can listen to Dr. Boehm explain her research and read her transcript below.
Transcript of Boehm Discussing her Research
Although being happy inherently feels good, do happy, more optimistic people enjoy tangible benefits beyond simple pleasure? In the context of cardiovascular disease – which is the leading cause of death worldwide – it does indeed appear that happier people enjoy better cardiovascular health compared with their less happy peers.
My colleagues and I have found that among initially healthy individuals, men and women who report the greatest levels of optimism, satisfaction, and emotional vitality have a reduced risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular-related death approximately five years later. Moreover, in patients already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, those with greater levels of well-being show a slower progression of the disease over time. Notably, these associations persist despite accounting for traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as cigarette smoking, socioeconomic status, and depression.
What might explain the protective associations between psychological well-being and cardiovascular health? Happier, more optimistic people tend to have healthier biological function and engage in healthier behaviors. For example, we find that the most optimistic middle-aged men and women tend to have healthier levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and carotenoids (which are antioxidants found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables). Furthermore, happier, more optimistic individuals are less likely to smoke cigarettes, and are more likely to be physically active and eat fruits and vegetables.
In sum, my research indicates that greater feelings of happiness, optimism, and satisfaction confer tangible benefits to individuals, particularly in the domain of cardiovascular health. Although more research is needed to gain a deeper understanding of how psychological well-being protects against cardiovascular disease over time, our findings have important implications for prevention and intervention strategies. In addition to repairing psychological deficits like depression, bolstering psychological well-being may help to foster cardiovascular health.