Beat Heart Disease with a Smile and Sneakers: The Life-Saving Power of Positivity and Exercise

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, with 13 million people falling victim to it annually. The most frustrating aspect of this statistic is that heart disease is generally preventable and reversible, yet many don’t make the necessary lifestyle changes to combat the disease. Fortunately, research has found that a change in attitude and the inclusion of physical activity can significantly reduce the mortality rates associated with heart disease.

Heart Disease Causes and Symptoms

Modern lifestyles and poor choices often lead to heart disease. Our diets are filled with unhealthy saturated trans fats and processed foods, both of which contribute to systemic inflammation. This leads to higher levels of harmful cholesterol, plaque buildup in our blood vessels, and an increased risk of blockages, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.

Depression, anxiety, and emotional disorders often accompany heart disease. These negative psychological states further complicate matters because they are also associated with adverse cardiac events and death.

Wellbeing and Cardiovascular Health

Several studies have investigated the association between positive psychological wellbeing (PPWB) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). For instance, a study by researchers from the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health explored the connection between PPWB, CVD, and other lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, diet, sleep, and exercise. The authors concluded that optimism is strongly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, healthy behaviors, and good biological function.

This is not the only study to demonstrate the role mental health can play in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Multi-Ethnic Study of Optimism and Cardiovascular Health

Another significant study, published in Health Behavior and Policy Review, used data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) to examine the association between optimism and cardiovascular health. Researchers found that participants in the highest quartile of optimism were more likely to have intermediate and ideal CVH when compared with the least optimistic group. Optimistic individuals were more likely to have better diets, engage in physical activity, maintain healthy body mass indices, avoid smoking, and keep their blood sugar and total cholesterol levels in check.

This study also highlighted the important role of exercise in cardiovascular health.

Positive Affect, Exercise, and Cardiovascular Health

A Danish study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes analyzed the connection between positive affect, exercise, and heart disease in a sample of 607 patients from Holbæk Hospital in Denmark. The researchers found that patients with high positive affect had a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality and were more likely to exercise. They also concluded that exercise acted as a mediator in the relationship between positive affect and mortality.

The connection between positive affect, exercise, and cardiovascular health might appear obvious, but let’s dive deeper into why they work together so effectively.

The Positive Triangle

Positive mental attitude, exercise, and good cardiovascular health form a triangle of wellness. Depressed or hopeless individuals are less likely to take care of themselves and engage in healthy activities like exercise. Inactivity is linked with negative health outcomes, including depression, heart disease, and premature death.

Exercise, on the other hand, offers a range of positive health benefits. It enhances self-esteem, which in turn leads to a more optimistic outlook on life. Furthermore, physical activity releases endorphins, reducing pain and increasing feelings of happiness and well-being. It also helps alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression while promoting better sleep, blood pressure management, and overall heart health.


The link between positive affect, exercise, and heart disease is clear. Research proves that optimism and a positive attitude can improve mortality rates in those with heart disease. Additionally, individuals who consistently exercise are less likely to develop heart disease or remain depressed.

Depression and poor emotional states are associated with heart disease and premature death. Thus, incorporating exercise into your daily routine is an effective way to boost your mood, improve your attitude, and decrease your risk of becoming a statistic in America’s fight against heart disease.