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The psychology of heart health

published: 02-13-2017 Journal entry icon

There’s a strong relationship between your mental health and cardiovascular health, and new research suggests that both are closely tied together in ways not previously understood.

By some estimates, those with cardiovascular disease are 3 times more likely to struggle with depression. They’re also likely to go undiagnosed because of the stigma associated with mental illness and the lack of mental health evaluations conducted in medical settings. The prognosis is worse for adults with depression: 80% are at increased risk of developing new cardiovascular illness, experiencing complications or hospitalizations, and dying from heart disease.

Depression can worsen cardiovascular health through other health behaviors too. For example, those with depression might be less willing to follow medical treatment plans, more likely to eat unhealthy “comfort” foods—especially ones high in sugar and sodium—and live more sedentary lifestyles. Depression impacts certain stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which also can “spike” your blood sugar, blood pressure, and resting heart rate.

On the flip side, psychological well-being might be associated with higher levels of cardiovascular health. Optimism, for example, might reduce your risk of heart disease. How? Optimism is characterized by expecting good things to happen or having a sense of control, and both perspectives can influence you to engage in restorative health behaviors, reduce risky or harmful behaviors, and make better choices. If you believe that what you do affects your health, you’re more likely to take purposeful action to deal with your illness and take preventive measures to ward off disease in the first place. 

Psychological health and illness impact cardiovascular health, and vice versa. The relationship is a complicated, two-way street. Love your heart by taking care of yourself and seeking help for depression when needed. Your heart will thank you for it.