Heart Health When Life is Satisfying

Evidence from the Whitehall II Cohort Study

It seems like common sense that being depressed or anxious is not good for a person’s health. But does well-being offer protective effects on cardiovascular health?

This study used data from the Whitehall II cohort of British civil servants who rated their satisfaction (on a 7-point scale from very dissatisfied to very satisfied) with eight domains of their life: (1) Marital or love relationship; (2) leisure time activities; (3) standard of living; (4) job; (5) health; (6) family life; (7) sex life; and (8) feelings about self as a person.
Psychological well-being was assessed by asking participants yes/no questions about whether emotional problems like depression or anxiety caused them to change work and other activities. Incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD)—angina, nonfatal myocardial infarction (MI) or death from CHD— was assessed at 5-year follow-up.

Four life domains—job, family life, sex life and self satisfaction—were independently associated with a 12 percent reduced risk of total CHD. Looking at the components of CHD, risk of angina was reduced among individuals with high and moderate satisfaction, compared with individuals with low satisfaction. No association was found between the various domains and nonfatal MI or fatal CHD.

 

This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.