February 26th, 2010
07:59 PM ET

Happy person makes for a happy heart

By Elizabeth Mo
CNN Medical Intern

I have little to smile about when it comes to my morning commute in the New York City subway system. It’s crowded, it’s dirty and it’s stressful. Some people read to pass the time, a few sleep, and others sing (I really wish they wouldn’t). I, like the majority, stay aloof. Occasionally, someone passing between carts will interrupt my blank staring with, “Why the long face?” Well, I simply don’t feel like smiling.

But maybe I should try.

A recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that a good mood can have a positive affect on your heart. In 1995, Dr. Karina Davidson of the Columbia University Medical started following 1,739 Canadians who had no heart conditions. More than 10 years later, 145 people had developed heart problems.
After examining the data, Davidson found that happier people are less likely to develop heart conditions such as heart disease.

Happier people tend to lead healthier lifestyles including smoking less and exercising more, which decreases the risk of heart problems.

"If you aren't naturally a happy person, just try acting like one," Davidson says, “It could help your heart.”

There is a strong relationship between stress or depression and heart disease. Stress releases hormones that ultimately damage cardiac muscle. Certain genetic factors related to heart disease can also play a role in developing depression. However, can acting happy help your heart? Will smiling when I don’t feel like smiling help my heart as much as when I smile naturally?

“There is evidence that trying, for a day, to 'act' happy leads to higher ratings of daily satisfaction at the end of that day,” Davidson says. It is this increased level of daily satisfaction that might improve heart health. She notes that this was an observational study and didn't address causality. She is interested in doing a study that would determine whether acting happy actually prevents heart problems from developing.

Now, I sit on the subway and wonder whether Canadians are more prone to happiness. Between the Olympics and maple syrup, it’s very possible. I think of what 1,700 Canadians descending on New York subway system might look like and I laugh. Then someone passing from cart to cart screams, "What’s so funny?" and continues past.

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