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Happiness is a healthy heart

LONDON - You've heard it before: To avoid a heart attack eat right and exercise and don't smoke. But it also may help to be happy, a new study says.

Even if you're grumpy by nature, try to be cheerful.

Researchers at Columbia University rated the happiness levels of more than 1,700 adults in Canada with no heart problems in 1995. After a decade, they examined the 145 people who developed a heart problem and found that happier people were less likely to have had one.

The study was published online today in the European Heart Journal.

"If you aren't naturally a happy person, just try acting like one," said Dr. Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center, the paper's lead author. "It could help your heart."

Davidson and colleagues used a five-point scale to measure happiness. They then statistically adjusted for things like age, gender and smoking. For every point on the scale, people were 22 percent less likely to have a heart problem.

The study was paid for by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and others.

Davidson said happy people were more likely to have a healthier lifestyle.

It could also be that there is an unknown genetic trait that predisposes people to be happy and have less heart disease.

"Anything that patients can do to increase the amount of [happiness] in their lives will be helpful," Davidson said, adding a slight proviso: "No smoking, eating unhealthy food, not exercising or anything potentially damaging."