Psychological health linked to heart health

Man sitting on couch looking distressed.

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2 min read

Mental health and well-being appear to be connected to biological processes and behaviors that contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to an American Heart Association statement published in Circulation on Jan. 25, 2021. The statement, co-authored by Laura Kubzansky, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-director of the School’s Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, outlines the substantial body of evidence in the field. Key among its findings is that health care providers should consider their patients’ psychological health when evaluating them or treating them for heart disease.

“Clinicians should strive to treat not just the disease state but the patient and the person as a whole,” the researchers wrote. To help achieve this aim, they call for psychological health status screening for patients at risk for CVD.

According to the researchers, psychological health can affect cardiovascular health both negatively and positively. For example, chronic stress can lead to dysregulation in the nervous system, increased inflammation, and a cascade of negative health effects. On the other hand, positive psychological attributes such as optimism are associated with lower levels of inflammation.

Behavior may be another pathway linking mind, body, and heart health, according to the researchers. People who feel happier and more optimistic tend to eat healthier diets, exercise more, and be less likely to smoke than people who are experiencing negative mental health.