A new study claims that people with heart complications might benefit from staying positive and happy. Following over a 1,000 patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) for five years, health researchers observed that psychologically positive individuals were more likely to sleep better, stay physically active, and take their heart medications.

Moreover, these individuals were also less likely to smoke as compared to patients with reduced levels of positivity.

An Interplay Between Physiology And Psychology

Nancy L. Sin, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Healthy Aging and in the Department of Bio-behavioral Health at Penn State explained that depression and negative emotions significantly and adversely affect our health. However, it isn’t very clear how positive emotions could have a protective effect on our health status.

The researchers observed that positive emotions were associated with various long-term health habits which played a crucial role in reducing the likelihood of potential heart complications, and even death.

The team documented the psychological well-being of participants at two levels – initially at a baseline, and then after a five-year follow-up. Assessments were made by asking each individual to rate the extent to which he or she had felt 10 specific positive emotions, such as ‘proud’, ‘interested’, ‘inspired’, enthusiastic’, etc. Associated factors, including physical activity, adherence to medication, quality of sleep and cigarette and alcohol consumption were also recorded at baseline and after the follow-up.

The participants’ depressive symptoms, demographic factors and severity of heart complications were also taken into account when analyzing the data.

How Emotions Affect Us Physiologically

This is what the researchers found: Higher levels of positive emotions were linked to reduced smoking, enhanced physical activity, improved sleep and increased adherence to medication at baseline. No correlation was observed between positive emotions and consumption of alcohol.

Even though positive emotions considered at baseline did not foresee health changes after five years, increases in such emotions over five years was associated with improved physical activity, adherence to medication and better sleep quality.

Explaining The Findings

According to researchers, there are various reasons which explain the association between positivity and optimal health. Individuals who are more positive tend to be more persistent and motivated, hence engaging in healthier regimes. Moreover, they may be more confident in maintaining routine abilities, such as sleep hygiene and physical activity. People with greater positive well-being might also adjust and adapt easily to heath goals, and will most probably cope with stress and setbacks proactively.

“Efforts to maintain or enhance positive emotions can be very promising for promoting superior health behaviors,” concluded the researchers.

This research could potentially lead to developing new interventions that will improve health habits. Further studies on chronic disease populations, along with the electronic tracking of health behaviors are suggested. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.