Happiness means less risk of a heart attack, a study has concluded. *File photo
Happiness means less risk of a heart attack, a study has concluded. *File photo

A recent study shows people with positive outlooks have significantly lower risks for heart attacks and heart disease. 

But living in a warm and happy place such as Bermuda doesn’t necessarily mean one has a happy temperament. 

The study was conducted at Johns Hopkins University and led by Dr Lisa Yanek, assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. A report on the research was published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

According to a statement from Johns Hopkins, previous research has shown that depressed and anxious people are more likely to have heart attacks and to die from them than those whose dispositions are sunnier. 

But the Johns Hopkins researchers say their study shows that a general sense of well-being — feeling cheerful, relaxed, energetic and satisfied with life — actually reduces the chances of a heart attack.

Dr Yanek said: “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.

“A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result.”

Dr Yanek said cheerful personalities are likely part of the temperament we are born with, not something we can easily change.

The statement from Johns Hopkins said while some have suggested it’s possible that people lucky enough to have such a trait are also more likely to take better care of themselves and have more energy to do so, Dr Yanek said her research shows that people with higher levels of well-being still had many risk factors for coronary disease but had fewer serious heart events.

She emphasized that the mechanisms behind the protective effect of positive well-being remain unclear. 

She also noted that her research offers insights into the interactions between mind and body, and could yield clues to those mechanisms in the future.

We asked Dr Yanek if people who live in warmer climates tend to be happier. She said: “Our study did not look at climate, but other researchers have found that climate was not associated with happiness. The most recent Better Life Index showed that people in northern climates seem to be happier, but there were not as many countries in warmer climates included.”

Asked if living a healthy lifestyle results in a happier temperament and a lower risk for heart attacks, Dr Yanek said: “Yes, lifestyle and individual characteristics are very important factors. 

“People who are happier may be more likely to choose healthy behaviours, but in our study, the people with more positive well-being — those who were happier, more energetic, more satisfied with life — still had many risk factors for heart disease.”

So can a negative outlook increase one’s risk for a cardiac event? She said: “Yes, many other studies have found that negative traits such as depression, anxiety, anger, or stress increase one’s risk for heart disease. 

“Our study is one of far fewer studies to find a specifically positive trait to be protective against heart disease.” n