An illustration of hands reaching for social media bubbles is shown.Thinking positive and surrounding yourself with optimistic friends may just earn you a healthier heart.

At least that is the message of two recent research studies.

Both studies acknowledge that the United States has a serious problem with heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 610,000 people die of heart disease each year–that’s one in every four deaths.

Optimists may just hold the key to reducing those stats.

People with the highest levels of optimism have “twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” said Rosalba Hernandez, PhD, lead author of a study released by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

She said she hopes that this study will encourage the American Health Association to consider a person’s psychological well-being, not just diet and exercise, in its campaign to improve heart health.

“The mind and the body are clearly linked, so how you feel and how you behave does impact your medical health,” said Jared L. Skillings, PhD, ABPP, board-certified psychologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group at the Richard DeVos Heart & Lung Transplant Clinic. “I’ve seen research that indicates the risk of death is two to seven times greater for heart disease patients who also are depressed.”

Dr. Skillings cautions that you can’t just tell yourself positive thoughts and see changes.

“What actually has an impact is making specific changes in your world and then your mood will catch up,” he said. “Check yourself and determine why you are being negative. Then actively figure out what to do to make a difference. Seek help with that if needed.”

Another study, published by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, found that positive emotional messages using the social media platform Twitter relate to a lower risk of death from heart disease. On the flip side, negative emotional tweets can be linked to an increased risk of heart disease death. Researchers studied CDC heart-related data by county and compared it to language used in tweets in each community.

This does not mean that you’ll have a heart attack after sending an angry tweet about the driver who cut you off on your morning commute. Rather, it points out that if many of your neighbors are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease, concluded one of the study co-authors.

“How your neighbors feel may impact your risk for heart disease,” Dr. Skillings said, pointing out that the study uses Twitter to assess the psychological well-being of a population, not individuals, in order to predict rates of heart disease.

Dr. Skillings applauded the research as a new way to identify segments of a community who may need help but aren’t getting it now.

“This is a productive way of using social media rather than just to complain or tell people what you had for dinner,” he said with a laugh. “If your tweets, Facebook posts, or real relationships seem too negative, perhaps it is time to make a change or get some help.”

While the research looks at the big picture, why not evaluate the language typically used in your own tweets? Create a word cloud of the most frequently posted words in your tweets then look for a prevalence of positive words versus negative.

The Spectrum Health Medical Group Psychiatry & Behavioral Medicine team uses a holistic approach to treat the mind, body and spirit. We help patients achieve and maintain mental health during life’s journey.