Although the studies have been observational, it has been suggested that it might be possible to prevent heart disease by enhancing an individual’s positive emotions.
Positive affect is defined as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. These feelings are usually stable and trait-like, particularly in adulthood. Positive affect is largely independent of negative affect, so that an individual who is generally happy and contented can also be occasionally anxious, angry or depressed.
In the study, which was conducted over a period of 10 years, the researches followed 1,739 adults. At the start of the study, nurses assessed the participants’ risk of heart disease, measuring symptoms of depression, anxiety and hostility, as well as the positive affect. Over the 10 year period it was found, after taking into account the ages, sex, cardiovascular risk factors and negative emotions of the participants, that increased positive affect predicted lower risk of heart disease by 22%. Those participants who had no positive affect were at 22% higher risk of heart attack or angina, than those with a little positive affect, who in turn were at 22% higher risk than those participants with moderate positive affect.
Positive Affect and Heart Disease
As yet, there is only speculation about what could be the mechanisms which make positive affect responsible for conferring long term protection from heart disease. Speculation includes the influence of positive affect on heart rate, sleeping patterns and smoking cessation. One explanation could be that those individuals with positive affect may have longer rest periods physiologically, thus better regulating their blood pressure. Another could be that those individuals with positive affect may recover quicker from stressors. It is important to reiterate that this is all speculative, and a lot more research is required on the subject. It is still not known for certain whether it is possible to improve and modify positive affect and to what extent.
There is a vicious cycle linking cardiovascular disease to depression, and this link deserves greater attention from scientists. New treatments to increase positive affect could lead to a potential new approach for treating those individuals who have cardiovascular disease and have developed depression as a result of it.
The most successful interventions for depression include increasing positive affect as well as decreasing negative affect. If clinical trials supported the findings of this study, then it would be relatively easy to assess positive affect in patients and suggest interventions to improve it to help prevent heart disease.
Negative emotions can have detrimental effects on the mind and body leading to other more serious conditions. Call The Villa today to find out how we can offer positive coping skills for life’s stresses. (855) 591-6116.