Middle-aged optimists are at lower risk of heart disease than their stressed-out contemporaries, new research has shown.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people with a sunny disposition had higher levels of 'good cholesterol' - known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is thought to protect against heart disease.
Happier people also had lower levels of triglycerides, the fatty molecules blamed for hardening arteries and causing blockages.
The scientists wanted to know why. Was it because happier people tend not to have unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking and overeating? Or was there a specific biochemical reason?
To find out, the researchers analysed data taken from the 'Midlife in the United States' study, which comprised of phone interviews and lab tests involving 990 Americans aged 40 to 70 years old.
The phone interviews were designed to measure participants' happiness levels using a scale of 6 to 30. They were asked to rate how strongly they agreed with certain statements such as: 'In uncertain times I usually expect the best'.
In the lab, blood was taken to measure HDL (good cholesterol) levels. The researchers discovered that those who came out happiest on the optimism scale also had the highest levels of good cholesterol in their bodies. In fact, for every five point increase on the scale, participants had one more milligram of HDL. This increase in HDL is equivalent to a 3% drop in risk of heart disease.
Lead study author Julia Boeh said: 'It is one additional piece of evidence suggesting that our psychological health and physical health are intertwined, and that viewing the world optimistically may have some tangible benefits for our health.'
Happiness and health are cyclical. If you can learn to feel happy, in whatever situation you find yourself in, then you sit at an advantage. If you look at the world with pessimism and despair, you set yourself up for ill health. Many alternative therapies view health and happiness in this way. Taking care of yourself isn't just about taking painkillers, antibiotics, or other drugs - it's about taking time to sit back and reflect, understand your body and build on your self-awareness. Happiness comes with health, and health comes with happiness.
To find out more about the alternative therapies available, please view our Therapy Topics page.
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