More Love, Greater Heart Health - "The Rabbit Effect"

Love and positive emotions can impact heart health

The Real-World Impact of Love and Positive Emotions on Heart Disease Risk

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States today. We all know that a lack of exercise, eating an inflammatory diet, having high blood pressure are all risk factors for heart disease. But, did you know that your thoughts, feelings, and emotions can have a great impact on your heart health? We were surprised at the heart-damaging effects of negative emotions, and the heart-supporting aspects of positive emotions. Let’s take a look at the studies.

"The Rabbit Effect" - How Love can Impact Heart Health

In 1978, researchers ran a study on rabbits to test the impact of a high cholesterol diet on heart health. Genetically similar rabbits were all fed a high-fat diet, intended to show changes in heart disease risk. Strangely enough, one group of rabbits seemed to be protected against heart disease and stroke, despite being fed the same toxic diet. Researchers, trying to understand this unusual finding, looked into what was happening and found that the rabbits that did not develop coronary heart disease were fed by a lab assistant who would pet and talk with them each time she came in. Researchers were so amazed, they repeated the experiment and saw the same results, showing that there must be an impact of love and attention in reducing risk of heart disease, despite a high-fat diet. (1)


Amazing Scientific Findings on Emotions and Heart Health

Happiness Matters

A Canadian study found that the happiest people were 22% less likely to develop heart disease compared with those who fell in the middle of the positive/negative emotional scale. (2)

In the same study, those with the highest rate of negative emotions had the highest risk of developing heart disease.

In heart failure patients, increasing positive emotions by using a gratitude journal improved inflammatory markers. (3)

In 1988, when France beat Brazil in World Cup soccer, the biggest sporting event ever held in France, French men had a much lower rate of cardiovascular death compared with the 5 days before and after the event!

Optimism Uplifts

A review of 15 studies found that optimism was associated with a 35% lower risk of angina, heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes. (4)

In heart failure patients, optimism was associated with higher health-related quality of life. (5)

Anxiety Makes Things Worse

A recent study shows that mortality rate from heart attack was higher in those who had high anxiety within 2 hours before the heart attack. (6)

Anger Depletes

A large study of more than 12,986 middle-aged men and women found that the angriest people faced roughly twice the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and almost three times the risk of heart attack compared to subjects with the lowest levels of anger. (7, 8)

According to a study published in Monitor on Psychology, hostility is a better predictor of coronary heart disease (CHD) in older men than smoking, drinking, high caloric intake, or high levels of LDL cholesterol! (9)

A 2009 meta-analysis found that anger and hostility in healthy people increased risk of coronary heart disease events by 19%. (10)

Does the Day of the Week Make Any Difference?

How do you feel about Mondays? How do you feel about holidays? Scientific research suggests interesting patterns to the timing of our heart attacks. What do you think?

Mondays are the day most heart attacks occur. In fact, incidence is 11% higher than any other day of the week. Heart attack incidence is also higher during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. (11, 12)

New Insights and a Simple Breathing Exercise

More than individual parts, our body is a vast interactive field of physical structure, energy, and information — each cell intertwined with and influencing all the others.

Our thoughts and even our breathing patterns can affect our heart. In the video below, I will demonstrate a simple breathing exercise, a pranayama from ancient India, which brings peace to the heart. I find it really soothing and helpful. Maybe you will want to give it a try. 

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  1. Harding, K. 2019. How a study on rabbits revealed the secret to living a longer life. New York Post Online, Aug. 24, 2019. Accessed Jan. 30, 2021.
  2. Davidson, K. W., et al. 2010. Don’t worry, be happy: Positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: The Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey. European Heart Journal 31(9):1065-1070.
  3. Redwine, L. S., et al. 2016. Pilot randomized study of a gratitude journaling intervention on heart rate variability and inflammatory biomarkers in patients with stage B heart failure. Psychosomatic Medicine 78(6):667-676.
  4. Rozanski, A., et al. 2019. Association of optimism with cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open 2(9):e1912200.
  5. Kraai, I. H., et al. 2018. Optimism and quality of life in patients with heart failure. Palliative & Supportive Care 16(6):725-731.
  6. Smeijers, L., et al. 2017. Anxiety and anger immediately prior to myocardial infarction and long-term mortality: Characteristics of high-risk patients. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 93:19-27.
  7. Williams, J. E., et al. 2000. Prospective analysis from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Circulation 101(17):2034-2039.
  8. Kam, K. 2007. Rein in the rage: Anger and heart disease. WebMD. Accessed on Jan 30, 2021.
  9. Benson, E. S. 2003. Hostility is among best predictors of heart disease in men. Monitor on Psychology 34(1).
  10. Chida, Y., and A. Steptoe. 2009. The association of anger and hostility with future coronary heart disease: A meta-analytic review of prospective evidence. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 53(11):936-946.
  11. Uppsala University. 2017. Less [sic] myocardial infarctions during summer vacation — More on Mondays and winter holidays. EurekAlert! Public Release, July 6, 2017. Accessed on Jan 30, 2021.
  12. Wallert, J., et al. 2017. Temporal changes in myocardial infarction incidence rates are associated with periods of perceived psychosocial stress: A SWEDEHEART national registry study. American Heart Journal 191:12-20.