A prospective study of positive psychological well-being and coronary heart disease

Health Psychol. 2011 May;30(3):259-67. doi: 10.1037/a0023124.


Objective: Research suggests that positive psychological well-being is associated with cardiovascular health. However, much of this research uses elderly samples and has not determined the pathways by which psychological well-being influences cardiovascular disease or whether effects are similar for men and women. This study investigates the association between two aspects of well-being (emotional vitality and optimism) and coronary heart disease (CHD) in a sample of middle-aged men and women, and considers potential mediating factors.

Method: Between 1991 and 1994, well-being and coronary risk factors were assessed among 7,942 individuals without a prior cardiovascular event from the Whitehall II cohort. Incident CHD (fatal CHD, first nonfatal myocardial infarction, or first definite angina) was tracked during 5 person-years of follow-up.

Results: Positive psychological well-being was associated with reduced risk of CHD with an apparent threshold effect. Relative to people with the lowest levels of well-being, those with the highest levels had minimally adjusted hazard ratios of 0.74, 95% confidence interval [0.55, 0.98] for emotional vitality and 0.73, 95% confidence interval [0.54, 0.99] for optimism. Moreover, the association was strong for both genders and was only weakly attenuated when accounting for ill-being. Neither health-related behaviors nor biological factors explained these associations.

Conclusions: Positive psychological well-being was associated with a modest, but consistent reduced risk of incident CHD. The relationship was comparable for men and women, and was maintained after controlling for cardiovascular risk factors and ill-being. Additional research is needed to identify underlying mechanisms and investigate whether interventions to increase well-being may enhance cardiovascular health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Coronary Disease / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors