The American Heart Association Makes the Heart-Mind Connection Official

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Research has continued to cement the link between mental health and heart health.

Colloquially and intuitively, we have perceived a link between mental health and heart health for a long time. When we feel really sad, for instance, we say we have a “broken heart.” We use the word “heartfelt” to describe deep, genuine feelings. When we feel super worried about something, we exclaim, “I almost had a heart attack!”

A slam dunk on research demonstrating this link has been missing — but over time, evidence supporting the connection between mind and heart health has accumulated. So much so that the American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a statement recognizing the relationship and recommending tending to mental well-being as part of the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disorders.

Why is this statement so important?

Because while some are increasingly aware of the mind-body connection, it’s considered New Age mumbo jumbo to others. Further, the medical care most people receive does not always consider this connection. The AHA’s statement — an acknowledgement that the link exists — is one step toward resolving this barrier.

But the real power comes in spreading the knowledge that’s accumulated over time to the people it matters to the most — you. Here are the key takeaways from the AHA’s statement and why they should matter to you.

The Statistics Support a Link Between Mental Illness and Heart Disease

There’s a lot of evidence that mental health and heart health are connected.

General Psychological Health Plays a Role, Too

Research shows that negative psychological factors like anger and pessimism are related to worse heart health. Conversely, positive psychological factors like optimism and mindfulness are associated with better heart health.

Mental Health and Healthy Behaviors Are Connected

Those who feel better engage in healthier habits. Although this may seem obvious, there is also research showing that having better psychological health makes a person more likely to eat well, exercise, take prescribed medication, go to preventive health visits, and not smoke.

But there’s more to this story. Research shows that mental health affects heart health independently of health behaviors. Poor mental health is associated with disturbances in blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and the function of platelets (blood cells important to blood clotting). It’s also associated with higher levels of inflammation, which has been demonstrated to contribute to both diabetes and heart disease.

Research on Which Psychological Treatments Are Best for Heart Health Is Less Developed

Although there is a lot of research on the way psychological health impacts heart health, there is less research currently available on which psychological treatments are best for the heart.

Here are the current leading contenders as to what may help: