How attitudes and emotional states affect the heart.
Your lover is cheating on you. Your job has just been relocated to Taiwan.
Your brother wants to borrow another grand. And to top it off, your cat's been
scratching your antique divan. It doesn't help at this point for your doctor to
tell you that hostility is bad for your heart.
That, however, has been the message of years of research. People who are
chronically angry are more likely to get heart disease. Depression, too, puts
you at risk for heart disease -- as well as for cancer, diabetes, and a long
list of other ailments.
When heart specialist John M. Kennedy, M.D., of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, stands at the scrub sink before an operation, he breathes deeply with seven-count exhales, visualizing how he wants the procedure to go. "Athletes use these techniques to perform under pressure, but we can all call on them in our regular lives," Dr. Kennedy says. It starts with knowing what kind of breathing works best for the challenge you're facing. Here's what the latest research shows.
But along with the warnings, finally comes a little good news. Researchers
reported in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings that hostile people not only are
more likely to fall prey to heart disease, but also are more likely to benefit
The research linking anger to heart problems has a long history that goes
back to at least the 1960s, when California cardiologists Meyer Friedman and
Ray Rosenman first coined the term "type A" to describe edgy, impatient
people and showed that these people were more likely to have heart attacks.
But anger isn't the only kind of unhappiness that can harm the heart.
Researchers in Norway discovered that patients with congestive heart failure
who also suffered from severe depression were four times more likely to die
within two years of treatment than patients who weren't depressed.
The study, published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in
Medicine last November, included 119 patients suffering from congestive
heart failure. Of the 20 patients who died from cardiac disease during the
two-year study, 25% were depressed, compared to the 11.3% who were not
Knowing that sadness and anger are bad for your health, however, won't do
much to make you feel better. That's why the report in the Mayo Clinic
Proceedings comes as good news.
Researchers at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans studied 500 heart-attack
victims. They found that 13% had high levels of hostility and unexpressed
anger. All the patients underwent a standard 12-week cardiac rehabilitation
program, including nutrition counseling, exercise training, and occasional
At the end of the 12 weeks, the hostile patients showed more improvement in
exercise capacity, body-fat reduction, total cholesterol levels, and HDL
("good") cholesterol levels than the "low-hostility" patients.
They also reported lower levels of hostility, anxiety, and depression, and had
fewer complaints of general physical discomfort.
"Higher-risk patients generally benefit more from most therapies,"
says Carl J. Lavie, M.D., the cardiologist who led the study and the
co-director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Oschner Clinic.
"But we were surprised that the more hostile patients had such marked
benefits from the program."
There are lessons here not only for people who have suffered heart attacks
but for others who might be headed in that direction, says Joshua Smyth, Ph.D.,
a psychologist at North Dakota State University in Fargo who studies how stress
"We all know about the three biggies that are essential to mental and
physical well-being, but they bear repeating," he says.