Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Stress & Cardiovascular Health

The American Heart Association recently published a statement for the healthcare community about the impact of mental health on cardiovascular health.  An interdisciplinary panel of experts reviewed the research and discovered that mental health interventions can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The World Health Organization has defined mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”  People with strong mental health regularly experience positive emotions, optimism, gratitude, resilience, and have a sense of purpose.  People with poor mental health experience anxiety, depression, anger, pessimism, and dissatisfaction with their lives.  Well-being describes an overall evaluation of a person’s mental and physical health, as well as opportunities for growth, connection, and satisfaction with life. 

Takeaways:

  • Both traumatic stress (from experiencing or witnessing an event involving a threat to safety) and cumulative exposure to daily stress (from workplace conditions, social isolation or relationship difficulties, financial hardship, or mistreatment) increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Conditions that increase risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke include anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and pessimism.
  • These harmful conditions initiate biological processes that negatively impact cardiovascular health such as inflammation, impaired immune response, decreased glucose control, and dysregulation of the fight-or-flight stress response.
  • Characteristics associated with healthier aging and lower risk of cardiovascular disease include optimism, positive emotions, sense of purpose, mindfulness, resilience, and gratitude.
  • Positive psychological states lead to healthier behaviors and cardiovascular function, including lower blood pressure and heart rate, better immune response, and lower inflammation levels.
  • Interventions to improve cardiovascular health include antidepressants, therapy, stress management and positive psychology (developing strengths, gratitude, and optimism) programs, and meditation and mindfulness training.

Sources

Glenn N. Levine, et al., Psychological Health, Well-being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connectinon: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, Vol. 143 Issue 10 Circulation, Jan 25, 2021, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000947.

World Health Organization, Mental Health: Strengthening our Response, Mar 30, 2018, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response.

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