Cheerful people have lower risk of heart attack

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — People with cheerful temperaments are significantly less likely to suffer heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, or other cardiac events, research suggests.

Previous studies have shown that depressed and anxious people are more likely to have heart attacks and to die from them. But researchers say their study shows that the opposite is also true: A general sense of well-being—feeling cheerful, relaxed, energetic, and satisfied with life—actually reduces the chances of a heart attack.

“If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events,” says study leader Lisa R. Yanek, assistant professor of general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result.”


Positive well-being was associated with a one-third reduction in coronary events; among those otherwise deemed at the highest risk for a coronary event, there was nearly a 50 percent reduction. The findings took into account other heart disease risk factors such as age, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. (Credit: André Mielnik/Flickr)

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A cheerful personality is likely something one is born with, not something a person can easily change. Some have suggested it’s possible that positive people are also more likely to take good care of themselves and have more energy to do so.

But research shows that people with higher levels of well-being had fewer serious heart events even though they had many other risk factors for coronary. The mechanisms behind the protective effect of positive well-being remain unclear.

For the study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, Yanek and her colleagues looked at data from GeneSTAR, a 25-year project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health studying people with a family history of coronary disease, who are thus at higher risk for disease themselves.

The researchers analyzed information from 1,483 initially healthy siblings of people who had had coronary events before age 60. Brothers and sisters of people with early-onset coronary artery disease are twice as likely to develop it themselves.

Among other things, study participants filled out well-being surveys and received a score gauging cheerful mood, level of concern about health, whether they were relaxed as opposed to anxious, energy level, and life satisfaction.

Over the course of an average 12-year follow-up, the researchers documented 208 coronary events—heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, acute coronary syndrome, and the need for stents or bypass surgery—in the sibling group.

Positive well-being was associated with a one-third reduction in coronary events; among those otherwise deemed at the highest risk for a coronary event, there was nearly a 50 percent reduction. The findings took into account other heart disease risk factors such as age, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.

The researchers then looked at a broader population, using data from 5,992 participants in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In this population, over an average 16-year follow-up, there were 1,226 coronary events (20.5 percent). Members of this group also benefited from a cheerful temperament, which reduced their risk of a coronary event by 13 percent. The findings held whether the participants were white or African-American, men or women.

The research was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and National Center for Research Resources.

Source: Johns Hopkins University