The American Heart Association is reporting on dramatic new evidence that poor psychological health can damage your heart. The new study directly links mental and emotional trauma, stress and negativity to numerous heart problems that can take years off your life.
The researchers evaluated 128 studies addressing both psychological wellness and cardiovascular health.1
They first looked at research on chronic and traumatic stress, anger and hostility, anxiety, depression, and pessimism. They found that an increase in heart rate irregularities, blood pressure and inflammatory markers, as well as reduced blood flow to the heart, are directly associated with these emotional and mental health conditions.
What’s more, the data analysis showed those people who had higher rates of these emotional and mental health conditions were more likely to have cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and weight-related issues.
The Mind-Heart-Body Connection
You’ve no doubt heard of the mind-body connection and how one can influence the health of the other. Now one researcher would like to add to this idea.
“A person’s mind, heart, and body are all interconnected and interdependent in what can be termed ‘the mind-heart-body connection,’” said Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, who contributed to the investigation.
Dr. Levine noted that the research “clearly demonstrated” how mental health issues can negatively impact cardiovascular health.
Conversely, he said, the studies show “positive psychological attributes are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.”
Positive Mental Health Enhances Heart Health and Longevity
Not ignoring some possible good news, the American Heart Association team also reviewed studies exploring how positive psychological factors affect health.
And sure enough, those study participants who reported better mental well-being were less likely to experience stroke and cardiovascular disease.
These folks were also more likely to have lower blood pressure, better glucose numbers, less inflammation and healthier cholesterol levels. Collectively, this points to a lower risk of mortality.
Not surprisingly, those who were more mentally healthy were drawn toward better lifestyle choices. These habits included healthy eating, regular exercise, adhering to medication schedules and not smoking.
So, can mental health interventions help turn the tide in our battle against a leading cause of death for Americans—cardiovascular disease? Data analysts believe the answer is yes.
(It’s important to note that for decades, heart and lung diseases were the nation’s first and second leading causes of death. At the time of this writing, however, COVID-19 is now the number one leading cause of death in the U.S., followed by heart disease and lung disease.)
Combing the studies, researchers found that psychological therapy and mind-body programs led to better cardiovascular health and overall wellness.
Chronic stress is especially dangerous, as researchers believe it contributes to uncontrolled inflammation, leading to heart disease, memory loss and numerous other health problems.
I couldn’t agree more. In these times, especially, it’s more important than ever to address your mental and emotional health.
COVID has Piled on Even More Stress
The sad reality is that, as the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped our nation and our world for over a year, our collective mental health has plummeted.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that as far back as eight months ago—in June of last summer— a whopping 40 percent of adults had a mental health condition or substance abuse disorder.2 I can only imagine those numbers have risen even further over the last several months.
It’s urgent that you incorporate daily mental and emotional health maintenance practices along with healthy diet and exercise into your lifestyle. This isn’t just for your heart health, but for the health of your whole body. In fact, we’ve reported before how certain mindfulness practices can relieve stress, improve blood flow, sharpen memory and even strengthen your immune system.
Some of these practices include yoga, tai chi, meditation and breath work. You can also consider prayer and journaling. But if these don’t appeal to you, do as I do and take a walk in nature to exercise your body, relieve stress and calm your mind.
And remember, healthy sleep habits, good nutrition, exercising (especially outside), social interaction and professional therapy all have proven positive mental health outcomes.
A more holistic approach to health is necessary, says Dr. Levine. “Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease,” he writes, “It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life. We must strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health and promote an overall positive and healthy state of being.”