Could a grin on your face be your ticker’s saving grace?
In a new study at Penn State University, scientists looked at more than 1,000 people with coronary heart disease over a 5-year period. Patients who reported having higher levels of positive emotions like determination, excitement, and enthusiasm were more likely to exercise, sleep better, and avoid smoking.
Not surprisingly, those three measures can all reduce your risk of heart disease, according to previous research.
Although the people in this study already had heart problems—and their positive attitudes helped them maintain better health behaviors—other research pegs happiness as a proven preventative tool. A study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that positive well-being was associated with nearly a one-third reduction of coronary artery disease.
The scientists aren’t exactly sure why people with better attitudes are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, but they have a few theories.
Happier people may be more motivated to carry out and stick to health routines, adjust health-related goals, or cope with the setbacks of having ticker trouble, says study author Nancy Sin, Ph.D.
The most encouraging part of the findings is that the people who had great outlooks weren’t necessarily that way from the start. Patients who increased their positive emotions as the study went on were more likely to keep up healthy behaviors.
Stress and depression tend to hog all the headlines when it comes to factors that influence our health. So we tend to overlook the huge impact that positive thinking can have, says Sin.
But as the study shows, you can always turn your attitude around. “Start with small changes in your life,” says Sin—like trying one of these 20 Simple Ways to Be Happier.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.