Just as negative psychological states seem to be toxic to the human heart,
positive ones seem to be beneficial. For instance, optimism has been linked to
reduced progression of hardening of the arteries. Those scoring high on
forgiveness measures exhibited less cardiovascular reactivity to acute
And now emotional vitality—a positive state associated with interest,
enthusiasm, excitement, and energy for living—is associated with
cardiovascular health as well, a new study has found. The study was conducted
by Laura Kubzansky, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Harvard School of
Public Health, and Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., an assistant professor of
psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. Results appeared in the December
2007 Archives of General
The study included a nationally representative sample of about 6,000
American men and women. Its goal was to evaluate the hypothesis that emotional
vitality is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. None of
the subjects, during medical exams at the start of the study, showed signs of
coronary heart disease.
Each subject completed the General Well-Being Schedule, a validated measure
that is commonly used in health research and that contains six subscales
dealing with depressed mood, anxiety, general health, vitality, emotional
self-control, and a sense of positive well-being. Questions refer to how
respondents have been feeling during the prior month. The researchers then
used the questions having to do with emotional vitality—say, how much
energy or pep do you have, how happy are you with your life, is your daily
life full of things that interest you—to derive an emotional-vitality
score for each subject. Possible scores ranged from 0 to 35. Subjects' average
score was 25.
The subjects were then followed for 15 years to see whether they developed
coronary heart disease. Measures of coronary heart disease were obtained from
hospital records and death certificates. More than 1,000 subjects developed
coronary heart disease during that time.
The researchers then looked to see whether subjects with higher
emotional-vitality scores had significantly less coronary heart disease by the
end of the 15-year period than subjects with less emotional vitality.
They found that after controlling for age, gender, and race/ethnicity,
subjects with the highest levels of emotional vitality had a relative risk of
0.68 for coronary heart disease compared with subjects who had the lowest
levels of emotional vitality.
Moreover, a highly significant dose-response relationship was evident: the
greater the emotional vitality, the less the chance of having heart disease.
And even when other possibly confounding factors such as smoking, alcohol
consumption, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, physical activity, a history
of psychological problems, and current depressive symptoms were considered,
the link between emotional vitality and a reduced risk of coronary heart
disease remained statistically significant.
Finally, the researchers wanted to make sure that their finding couldn't be
explained by some low-emotional-vitality subjects having undetected coronary
heart disease at the start of the study. So they examined the association
between emotional vitality and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease after
excluding subjects who developed coronary heart disease within three years
after the start of the study. The finding, however, remained unchanged.
"We were a little surprised that it remained so robust even after a
number of other coronary heart disease risk factors were considered,"
Kubzansky told Psychiatric News. So she and Thurston believe that
emotional vitality can help protect people against coronary heart disease.
One way by which it might protect people, they speculated, is helping
people respond effectively to challenges as well as provide reserve capacity
for meeting those challenges. And a better meeting of such challenges would,
presumably, put less stress on the cardiovascular system and thus help protect
The authors acknowledged, however, that a third factor such as genetics
could account for both increased emotional vitality and decreased risk of
coronary heart disease.
An abstract of "Emotional Vitality and Incident Coronary Heart
Disease" is posted at<http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/64/12/1393>.▪