You can mix a combination of optimism, hope, satisfaction and self-confidence to create a medicinal cocktail your cardiovascular system will love. After many observations of real life cases, it has been confirmed that these sentiments and feelings can help prevent diseases such as strokes and heart attacks. Scientists are conducting research into the relationship between state of mind and health through emotional biology. Do you know what all this is based on?
The relationship between positive emotions and health is a controversial subject that the scientific community does not always agree on. What we do know, however, is that negative moods lead to rather unhealthy behaviour patterns and, on the contrary, when people are happy they tend to take care of their diet, avoid toxic substances such as tobacco and alcohol, and are concerned about their physical condition. However, these facts do not explain why cardiovascular risk, for example, remains high in people with depression even when they do not smoke, drink and are not overweight. So there has to be something else, something in their state of mind which exerts a direct influence on their health.
A study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) which monitored the lives of more than seven thousand individuals over a period of almost five years, came to the following conclusion: the more lively, enthusiastic, hopeful and committed people who were able to deal with life’s stresses had a significantly reduced risk of suffering a coronary heart disease incident. The protective effect of positive emotions was similar in men and women, irrespective of their habits. It can be deduced therefore that negative emotions could be one half of the equation; the other half could consist of positive emotions and sentiments as possible causes of physical well-being.
A possible explanation could lie in the body’s biochemistry. Feelings of anger and anxiety can cause changes in the heart’s electrical stability, accelerate atherosclerosis, and increase inflammation in the body. The so-called stress hormones work in the same way: cortisol, androgens and catecholamines (adrenalin and noradrenalin), which can have a harmful effect on health. On the other side are their positive counterparts, what we call the hormones of happiness, such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, which we secrete when we have pleasant or pleasurable feelings and which help maintain the body’s equilibrium.
The day will come when we understand the real nature of these biochemical processes and obtain the key to how health works and what causes illness. So, for the moment, the best advice is to focus on being positive.
In his book Positive Psychology, (2004, p. 39-40), Alan Carr has drawn up a summary of a number of authors of strategies based on scientific evidence that can boost happiness levels. We have provided a list of these strategies below:
- Keep in touch with your extended family.
- Maintain a small group of close friends.
- Take advantage of good weather on a regular basis.
- Live in an environment where there is pleasant music and art.
- Keep healthy.
- Do physical exercise on a regular basis.
- Eat good quality food and in moderation.
- Rest, relax and take holidays in moderation.
- Take part in cooperative recreational activities with groups of friends (e.g. music, dance or sport).
Do not compare yourself with the false images to be found in the media.
Sources and further information: School of Public Health, Harvard University; La ciencia de la salud (The Science of Health, in Spanish, published by Planeta)