Heart Attack Recovery May Be Improved By An Optimistic Outlook

An optimistic outlook following a heart attack may be good for your health, according to the results of a Harvard study reports the National Institutes of Health’s website, MedlinePlus. The same study showed that gratitude, however, does not seem to have an impact.

164 patients were evaluated two weeks after their heart attack and then again six months after their heart attack. In both cases, the patients with an optimistic outlook were less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital and were more physically active than heart attack patients without an optimistic outlook. The re-admission rate and physical activity level of patients who actively practiced gratitude was about the same as those who did not.

The difference? Researchers believe it’s the difference between the timeframe associated with an optimistic outlook versus the timeframe associated with gratitude. An optimistic outlook is forward looking. Patients look to the future and make plans for the future. A grateful attitude is focused on now. Patients think about what they have and can do today, but not about the future.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, expressed interest in a possible connection between psychological health and cardiological health, but warned that the size of this study was too small to be able to draw definite conclusions.

There are many who have believed for several years now that there is a connection between psychological health and physical health, and there have been a variety of studies that seem to indicate this connection. Circulation Journal states that depression is three times more common in heart attack patients than in the general population. Not surprisingly, says the American Psychological Association, this can lead to a failure to do things to improve their health like take medication, eat a healthy diet, and get some exercise. On their website, they cite studies that indicate that group and individual therapy of heart attack patients resulted in a 23 to 33 percent reduction in their risk of another heart attack or death.

Some steps the APA recommends taking if you have experienced a heart attack that may help create an optimistic outlook are:

  • Your doctor will suggest many lifestyle changes after your heart attack. The thought of tackling all of them can be overwhelming. Instead of trying to do it all at once, tackle one at a time. Set yourself goals that stretch into the future, goals that eventually get you to that healthy lifestyle.
  • Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel down for two weeks or longer, talk to your heart doctor. He will likely have a list of therapists who can help you.
  • Your doctor will likely suggest that you reduce stress in your life. It can be difficult to wrap your mind around what that means and how to accomplish it. Start with writing down everything in your life that you find stressful. Then think of what you can do to either eliminate those stressors or deal with them differently. The ability to picture your life with less stress is sure to give you a more optimistic outlook.
  • Reach out to family and friends. It’s easy to feel down and pessimistic about your future when you isolate yourself. When we spend a lot of time alone it’s easy to focus on the negative. Spend some time with family and friends and/or get involved in your community. It’s guaranteed to get your mind off the here and now and onto great things in the future.

Having a heart attack is a frightening, life-changing experience. But you can have a great, long life following one if you take the appropriate steps. So many of the things you can do to make yourself physically healthy will also help you create an optimistic outlook. But don’t focus just on the physical, your psychological health is just as important if you want to avoid another heart attack. Take steps to make yourself both happy and healthy.

[All photos courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons]