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Satisfaction with Job, Family and Sex Guard against Signs of Heart Disease

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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satisfied civil servant lower chance of heart disease symptomsDepression and chronic stress can be serious strains on heart health. But can positive emotional states do more for the heart than keep people at an average risk for signs of coronary heart disease?

Contentment is a continuum—just because someone isn’t suffering from anxiety doesn’t mean that they are terribly optimistic or feel fulfilled. So a team of researchers examined data from a long-term study of U.K. civil servants to see whether feeling good about their lives could actually provide above-average cardiac health.

About 8,000 middle-aged participants were asked: "All things considered, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you" with each of the following: your job, leisure time, standard of living, health, sex life, "marital or love relationship," and "yourself as a person." The findings were published online July 4 in the European Heart Journal.

People who reported having the highest overall levels of satisfaction (ranked on a numerical scale) were about 26 percent less likely than the unsatisfied to have preliminary manifestations of coronary heart disease, such as chest pains—also known as definite angina. Moderately satisfied workers were about 20 percent less likely than the lowest-raters to have these heart problems.

The most important categories for heart health were job, family life, sex life and one’s self—high satisfaction in each accounted for about a 12 percent dip in a person’s risk for moderate cardiac troubles.

The contented workers did not seem significantly protected against heart attack or other deadly coronary disease incidents, but, as the researchers pointed out, "angina is a strong predictor of future cardiovascular events." And as the participants were only, on average, about 50 years old, the less frequent chest pains in the especially satisfied might indicate that they will have healthier hearts down the road.

So guarding against heart disease might not just be a matter of living a healthy lifestyle and minimizing excessive stress. As lead author Julia Boehm, of the Harvard School of Public Health, noted in a prepared statement, people who are already at a higher risk for heart disease might benefit from "interventions to bolster psychological states—not just alleviate negative" ones.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/deanm1974





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  1. 1. jtdwyer 1:22 pm 07/6/2011

    I don’t know about the U.K., but in the U.S. civil service jobs are often considered underpaid, unrewarding and with little opportunity for career development or advancement, often staffed by unmotivated workers who have chosen employment security, benefits and low performance demands over all other job requirements. Might these characteristics have affected the results of this study? Perhaps another sample population would have produced somewhat differing results.

    BTW, I did once work for a few years in state government.

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  2. 2. carlosmonteiro 1:55 pm 07/6/2011

    The elevation of stress hormones with increased sympathetic nervous system activity is common in both major depression and in chronic stress. According to the acidity theory of atherosclerosis the sympathetic predominance is the primary factor in the cascade of events leading to the atherogenic spiraling and coronary artery disease. The raise in lactic acid concentration as a result of the elevation of stress hormones is the irritating factor acting on the endothelial cell surface provoking atherosclerosis. So, in our view, most of the civil servants analised in this study with the feeling of satisfaction with their life have their sympathetic nervous system in control, keeping them protected from heart disease. For more information about the acidity theory of atherosclerosis you can see at http://www.infarctcombat.org/AcidityTheory.pdf or in the blog about new evidences on the acidity theory of atherosclerosis at http://www.aciditytheory.blogspot.com

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  3. 3. Marc Barre Levesque 5:13 pm 07/6/2011

    "people who are already at a higher risk for heart disease might benefit from "interventions to bolster psychological states…""

    and, interventions to bolster the psychosocial health of the communities, large and small, where people work, play, live

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  4. 4. jtdwyer 12:31 am 07/7/2011

    Agreed. Not to demean the importance of these findings, but unless there’s some fundamental breakthrough in global economics, we can’t all be unstressed, highly
    satisfied civil service employees…

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  5. 5. SolusCado 2:05 pm 07/8/2011

    Articles like this "hurt" science. A correlation between decreased likelihood of cardiac problems and an increase in "happiness" across the factors listed does NOT suggest causality. Without more information than just this study, I would be more inclined to conclude that those with decreased stress and increased physical activity (either because their job affords them more time for it, or their sex life is more active) are less likely to suffer from cardiac issues because of the known factors that physical activity and decreased stress improve physical well-being.

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  6. 6. jstaf 6:21 pm 07/11/2011

    The idea that assessing one’s subjective well being is a well studied area, and there is a significant amount of predictability has emerged from the studies that show that a Flourishing mindset is something that can be achieved and show real benefits.

    There is no real need to worry about causation directly in this case as many attributes of personality, context and experience can feed into a person’s or group’s subjective well being so it is a case of the more the merrier vs, what one thing causes optimism and positive attitudes.

    We have joked about these in the past but those of us that see the "softer" sciences such as Cognitive Psychology as the tools needed to break through societies problems in the area of cooperation, which has provided all the good things we have ( along with some of the bad ).

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  7. 7. Raghuvanshi1 12:57 am 07/12/2011

    Any kind of stress is mostly responsible for heart attack.Only family,sex and job are not responsible for stress. there are many other reason just like broken friendship,treachery,accident, cheating,guilt feeling lack of exercises and lot more.so reader not blindly believe that sound position of family sex and job is safe guard against sings of heart attack.

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