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International body backs link between mental health and heart disease

A person's mental health can significantly affect their risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a new statement from a leading heart health association.

Mental and physical health have long been intertwined with regards to the effects they can have on one another.

Many common mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and stress for example, can lead to very real and very serious physical symptoms.

A new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), one of the US' leading non-profit cardiovascular health organisations, has now cemented the link between heart health and mental health – and will likely grab the attention of organisations in the UK.

"A person's mind, heart and body are all interconnected and interdependent in what can be termed 'the mind-heart-body-connection,'" said Glenn Levine, chair of the writing committee for the scientific statement. "Research has clearly demonstrated that negative psychological factors, personality traits and mental health disorders can negatively impact cardiovascular health."

Such findings include associations between negative psychological health – e.g. depression, chronic stress, anxiety, anger, and pessimism – and irregularities in heart rate and rhythm, increased blood pressure and reduced blood flow.

In addition, poor mental health is linked with behaviours linked to poor heart health, such as smoking, low physical activity, and an unhealthy diet.

In contrast, research shows that positive mental health attributes – such as happiness, optimism, and gratitude – are linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

These characteristics go hand-in-hand with beneficial health behaviours, like stopping smoking, increased physical activity, and heart-healthy eating.

Positive psychological health also leads to more positive social relationships, support and connections, all of which can make it easier for people to cope with life's challenges.

Physically, all of these attributes can lower blood pressure, improve glucose control, reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol, in turn lowering the risk of heart problems, says Levine.

"The data is consistent, suggesting that positive psychological traits play a part in better cardiovascular health."

In response, the statement recommends regular mental health screening for people with, or at risk of, cardiovascular disease, as well as psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy, stress reduction therapy and meditation.

"Wellness is more than simply the absence of disease. It is an active process directed toward a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life, and we must strive to reduce negative aspects of psychological health and promote an overall positive and healthy state of being," says Levine.

"In patients with or at risk for heart disease, health care professionals need to address the mental wellness of the patient in tandem with the physical conditions affecting the body, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, chest pain, etc."

To read the full statement, click here.


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