Positive attitude is best prevention against heart disease

provided by Johns Hopkins

positive outlook may offer the strongest known protection against heart disease in adults at risk, according to a Johns Hopkins study. The report, which looked at nearly 600 adults with a family history of heart disease, was presented on Nov. 12 at the American Heart Association's annual Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, CA.

    Study participants with a good attitude were only half as likely as their less optimistic counterparts to experience a heart “event” - such as sudden death, heart attack or unstable chest pain that required surgery - during an average seven-and-a-half-year period. This result was seen among all participants regardless of age, race or sex. Researchers observed the power of positive thinking even after adjusting for traditional risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, weight and cigarette smoking.

    “It's possible that the people with positive attitude produce lower levels of stress hormones, which helps protect them from disease,” says Diane M. Becker, ScD, MPH, senior author of the study and director of Hopkins' Center for Health Promotion. “In future studies, we'd like to examine whether adding pleasurable activities to the lives of this population affects heart disease risk.”

    Researchers studied 586 adults ages 30 to 59 with no symptoms of heart disease but whose brothers and sisters had been diagnosed with early heart disease. All subjects underwent a standardized personality survey as well as tests for high blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat measurements, blood fat levels, smoking and other risk factors, diabetes and lifestyle information. Participants were then followed for five to 12 years with regular stress tests and questionnaires.

    At the study's start, the participants had an average age of 45. Fifty-one percent were male and 17 percent were African American. During the follow-up period, 70 participants (11.9 percent) had heart events. Education level, diabetes and smoking status were not found to be strong predictors of heart disease.