Heart Health Tied to Social, Psychological Factors

Studies find several factors outside the body

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HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A host of new studies finds various social and psychological factors can have a significant impact on heart health.

Specifically, research presented at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans Sunday and Monday posit that people who practice yoga and meditation, who are married, who believe they have a strong social network, and who perceive themselves as not terribly anxious have better outcomes in several cardiovascular categories.

Researchers at Yale University, for instance, found that yoga and meditation relaxed arteries in people with cardiovascular disease. Thirty-three people with or without cardiovascular disease were subjected to three one-and-a-half-hour yoga and meditation sessions per week for a total of six weeks. At the end of the study, endothelial-dependent artery dilation improved by 69 percent in those with cardiovascular disease. There was no improvement seen in the healthy group.

A Minnesota study gives new meaning to the term "marital bliss," for both men and women. The researchers report that social support, particularly being married, was associated with a reduced likelihood of developing risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease.

"There was something extra special about being married or having a good strong social support," said study author Chris J. Armstrong, a research associate at the University of Minnesota. "It's good to have mates, and it's good to have friends."

The study also found that people who have strong social support, including being married, had lower blood pressure and were less likely to smoke. Oddly, though, married people were less physically active.

And as married women got older, their blood pressure went higher, although not significantly, Armstrong said.

In a similar vein, individuals with heart failure who perceived themselves to be anxious and to have low levels of social support were more likely to be re-admitted to the hospital. Among 139 patients, researchers at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan found that women were 7.6 times more likely to be re-admitted if they harbored these perceptions, while men were 1.7 times more likely. This is a signal to doctors that they should take symptoms of anxiety into account when treating patients.

Not surprisingly, social factors such as living alone, alcohol abuse, health status and a feeling of drowning under medical bills predicted the development of depression among individuals with heart failure, according to new Denver Health Medical Center research. Only 7.9 percent of individuals with none of these factors developed depression by the end of one year; 15.5 percent of those with one factor developed it; 36.2 percent of those with two factors got depressed; and 69.2 percent of those with three factors succumbed to depression. The total study population was 245 individuals.

Finally, controlling your blood pressure can prevent atrial fibrillation, or the rapid beating of the heart's upper chambers, according to research from the Cardiovascular Research Center at Brookline, Mass. A systolic blood pressure reading below 120 mm Hg was associated with a 61 percent reduced risk of developing atrial fibrillation, while a diastolic blood pressure below 80 mm Hg correlated with a 66 percent reduced risk.

More information

The American Heart Association has information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

SOURCES: Chris J. Armstrong, Ph.D., research associate, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; study abstracts, American Heart Association scientific sessions, New Orleans

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