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Can Positive Thinking Keep Your Heart Healthy?

New research suggests there is a connection between optimism and recovery from certain heart conditions.

Positive attitude

When we talk about positive thinking, we often use terms having to do with our hearts—open heart, pure heart, joyful heart. But new research from Duke University is making a more literal connection, finding that a positive outlook may be helpful to people who have chronic angina, a common heart condition.

Symptoms of this condition include chest pain or pressure because the heart is not receiving sufficient oxygen. Patients who displayed optimistic thought patterns, including having positive expectations about recovery, were 40 percent less likely to be hospitalized or require surgery than those who were not optimistic, according to the study.

The researchers collected data from 2,400 patients who had diagnoses of chronic angina and were preparing to undergo a procedure to open a blocked artery. 

An interesting additional finding from the patients’ questionnaires was that the most optimistic patients were also the least likely to have histories of heart attack, heart failure, diabetes, or chronic heart disease.

The researchers did not declare a causal relationship between positive thinking and better heart disease outcomes, however. There are multiple possible reasons for the results of the study, including the idea that patients who are healthier to begin with are more likely to expect to recover and regain good health.  

But the study does represent a new way of looking at the situation. Now, in addition to a body of research that examines the relationship between depression and heart health, there is a new avenue of inquiry that asks whether positive thinking could be deployed as a strategy to improve outcomes.

Lead researcher Alexander Fanaroff, a fellow in the department of cardiology at the Duke University Medical Center, told the Duke Chronicle that his next research question will explore ways to improve outlooks among heart patients.

Perhaps his subjects could reflect on the word of the writer Anthony J. D’Angelo: “Smile, it is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart.”

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