Optimistic people may be more than a third less likely to suffer a heart attack, claims study

‘Promotion of optimism and reduction in pessimism may be important for preventive health’

Sabrina Barr
Friday 27 September 2019 20:10 BST
Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde
Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde (MGM Distribution Co.)

People who identify as optimists may be more than a third less likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke, a new study has claimed.

A team of scientists recently carried out an investigation to explore whether a link could be found between a person’s outlook on life and their cardiovascular health.

For the study – which was published in medical journal JAMA Network Open – the team pooled data from 15 previous analyses of women and men across the globe.

The 230,000 participants came from the US, Europe, Israel and Australia and were followed over the course of a 14-year period.

According to the study’s findings, the participants who described themselves as optimists experienced 35 per cent fewer strokes than those who didn’t over the course of the time period.

Furthermore, the respondents who identified as optimists were 14 per cent less likely to suffer a premature death by any cause, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and diabetes.

The participants’ levels of optimism were evaluated by using psychological scales, while their overall health was also assessed.

Professor Alan Rozanski, corresponding author of the study and a cardiologist at Mount Sinai St Luke’s Hospital in New York, said the study’s findings “suggest a mindset of optimism is associated with lower cardiovascular risk”.

Professor Rozanski added that promotion of optimism and reduction of pessimism “may be important for preventive health”.

“Our study was the first meta-analysis, to our knowledge, to assess the association between optimism and clinical outcomes,” the scientist said.

“Findings were consistent with studies that have evaluated the association between optimism and other related medical conditions.”

Professor Rozanski explained that being an optimist may make a person more likely to follow a healthy lifestyle, by exercising on a regular basis, eating a balanced diet and refraining from smoking.

“Optimism has long been promulgated as a positive attribute for living,” he stated.

“Taken together, the cardiovascular and psychological benefits of optimism make it an attractive new arena for study within the field of behavioural cardiology.”

The researchers believe their findings could lead to the introduction of more intensive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help patients suffering from depression.

They stated that in addition to promoting a healthy diet and regular exercise, in their view, medical professionals should encourage positivity among their patients.

Professor Rozanski said that further research is needed to “better define the bio-behavioural mechanisms underlying this association and evaluate the potential benefit of interventions designed to promote optimism or reduce pessimism”.

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Earlier this year, a study conducted by scientists from Boston University School of Medicine claimed that being an optimist may increase your likelihood of living to at least 85 years old.

The researchers assessed data garnered from around 70,000 women and 1,400 men from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Veterans Affairs Normative Ageing Study respectively.

“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy ageing,” said Lewina Lee, assistant professor of psychiatry at the academic institution.

“This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan.”

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