Page 12 - Senior Times South Central Michigan - February 2020 - 27-02
P. 12

Page 12 Senior Times - February 2020
By: Sherii Sherban, Publisher
Scientific studies have been finding that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger, and our lives longer.
happiest participants had 23 percent lower lev- els of the stress hormone cortisol than the least happy, and another indicator of stress – the level of a blood-clotting protein that increases after stress – was 12 times lower.
    Studies suggest that happiness causes better health; others suggest only that the two are cor- related. Either way, happiness has an impact on our health.
Recently, the researchers checked in with the participants to see how they were doing and it turned out that the happier ones were less like- ly to have developed coronary heart disease.
In fact, for each one-point increase in positive emotions they had expressed, their heart disease risk was 22 percent lower.
Happiness also seems to carry benefits even when stress is inevitable. A 2009 study sub- jected psychology students to stress. They had to answer exceedingly difficult statistics ques- tions while being videotaped, and they were told that their professor would evaluate their response. Throughout the process, their heart was measured with an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine and a blood pressure monitor. In the wake of such stress, the hearts of the happiest students recovered most quickly.
Happiness Protects Your Heart – Love and happiness may not actually originate in the heart, but they are good for it. Studies as far back as 2005 have found that happiness is a good predictor of, and has a positive impact on, lower heart rate and blood pressure. Follow up studies were able to measure just how much. The happiest participants had a lower heart rate on follow-up (about six beats slower per min- ute), and the happiest participants during the follow-up had better blood pressure.
Happiness Strengthens Your Immune System – Do you know a grumpy person who always seems to be getting sick? That may be no coincidence. Research is now finding a link between happiness and a stronger immune sys- tem.
Research has also uncovered a link between happiness and another measure of heart health: heart rate variability, which refers to the time interval between heartbeats and is associated with risk for various diseases. A 2008 study seemed to link happiness to healthier hearts even among people who might have heart prob- lems. The participants who rated themselves as happiest on the day their hearts were tested had a healthier pattern of heart rate variability on that day.
A 2006 study investigated why happier peo- ple might be less susceptible to sickness though participant reaction to receiving the hepatitis B vaccine. The participants that were high in posi- tive emotion were nearly twice as likely to have a high antibody response to the vaccine – a sign of a robust immune system. Instead of merely affecting symptoms, happiness seemed to be literally working on a cellular level.
Happy People Have Fewer Aches and Pains – Unhappiness can be painful – literally. A 2001 study compared positive emotions to negative symptoms such as muscle strain, diz- ziness, and heartburn. People who reported the highest levels of positive emotion at the begin- ning of the study actually became healthier over the course of the study, and ended up healthier than their unhappy counterparts. Interestingly, the fact that their health improved over five weeks (and the health of the unhappiest partic- ipants declined) suggests that the results aren’t merely evidence of people in a good mood giv- ing rosier ratings of their health than people in a bad mood.
 One experiment found that immune sys- tem activity in the same individual went up and down depending on their happiness. On days when they were happier, participants had a better immune response, as measured by the presence of an antibody in their saliva that defends against foreign substances.
 Over time, these effects can add up to seri- ous positive differences in heart health.
Happiness Combats Stress – Stress is not only upsetting on a psychological level but also triggers biological changes in our hormones and blood pressure. Happiness seems to temper these effects, or at least help us recover more quickly.
A 2005 study suggests that positive emotion also mitigates pain in the context of disease. Women with arthritis and chronic pain rated themselves weekly on positive emotions like interest, enthusiasm, and inspiration for about three months. Over the course of the study, those with higher ratings overall were less like- ly to experience increases in pain.
A 2010 observational study invited 2,000 participants into the lab to talk about their anger and stress at work. Observers rated them on a scale of one to five for the extent to which they expressed positive emotions like joy, happi- ness, excitement, enthusiasm, and contentment.
Researchers have found associations between happiness and stress. In the study above the
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