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Mental well-being linked to better cardiovascular and overall health

The AHA stated that mental health is an important component to heart health, cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment, and overall well-being.

Kimberly Drake, Medical News Today, Jan 29, 2021

In 2019, National Institute of Mental Health data suggested that nearly 51.5 million adults in the United States had some form of mental health condition.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that by late June 2020, 40% of adults had a mental health condition or substance use disorder.

Even when doctors do an excellent job of focusing on their patients’ physical condition, they can sometimes unwittingly overlook psychological health.

Nonetheless, healthcare professionals are increasingly acknowledging the connection between mental health and physical well-being. This could lead to more effective treatment and prevention strategies that focus on the patient as a whole.

To address this issue, the AHA - in conjunction with the Council on Clinical Cardiology, the Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, the Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing, and the Council on Lifestyle and Metabolic Health - published a scientific statement in the journal Circulation.

This statement is an evaluation and summary of 128 studies relating to the association between psychological wellness and cardiovascular health.

The impact of adverse psychological health on the body

The statement’s authors began their investigation by looking at negative psychological health and its connection to cardiovascular disease. This included looking at research into chronic and traumatic stress, anger and hostility, anxiety, depression, and pessimism.

The overall data analysis showed an increase in heart rate irregularities, blood pressure readings, inflammatory markers, and reduced blood flow to the heart associated with the above traits or with mental health conditions.

People with mental health conditions or related traits were also more likely to have cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and weight-related issues.

Additionally, the authors found that these individuals were more likely to engage in behaviors that affect health, such as smoking, being inactive, eating an unhealthful diet, and not taking medications as prescribed.

Positive mental health enhances physical well-being

The AHA team also reviewed a number of studies into how positive psychological factors affect cardiovascular health.

Study participants who reported greater optimism, sense of purpose, happiness, mindfulness, life satisfaction, emotional vitality, well-being and gratitude, and resilience were less likely to experience stroke and cardiovascular disease, and they had a lower risk of mortality.

Specifically, people who reported a positive mental health status were more likely to have lower blood pressure, better glucose control, less inflammation, and lower cholesterol.

In general, the mentally healthy study participants were more likely to engage in beneficial behaviors, such as having higher levels of physical activity, adopting heart-healthy eating habits, adhering to medication schedules, regularly visiting the doctor, and not smoking.

The mind-body connection

Data analysts also investigated how interventions for psychological conditions or symptoms impacted cardiovascular and general wellness outcomes.

The review team looked at research into interventions used to reduce stress, promote coping skills, or cultivate positive psychological well-being.

They found that, in the studies they reviewed, engagement in psychological therapy and mind-body programs led to better cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

Effective psychological health programs include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, collaborative care management approaches, stress reduction therapy, and meditation.

Dr. Glenn N. Levine, chair of the writing committee and a professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, summarizes the team’s findings, saying: “Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease. It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life, and we must strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health and promote an overall positive and healthy state of being.”

Study-related limitations

Because many of the studies the team analyzed were observational and relied heavily on self-reporting, it is difficult to establish specific cause-and-effect relationships.

However, because of the sheer volume of study data that reflects an association between adverse psychological health and cardiovascular risk, the authors say that this is enough to suggest a tangible connection between the mind, heart, and body.

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