Study: Optimistic People Have Healthier Hearts


While an apple a day has been said to keep the doctor away, a new study has found that positive thoughts may also work just as well.

According to experts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, those with healthier hearts are also the same folks who don’t surround themselves with negativity.

In what’s thought to be the first study to examine the association of optimism and cardiovascular health across a large, racially and ethnically diverse population, the researchers analyzed over 5,000 people aged 45-84 to determine their physical health and levels of optimism. Participants, who lived in six different regions, were studied over the course of more than a decade. The population breakdown was 38 percent white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Hispanic/Latino and 12 percent Chinese.(1)

The study involved assessment of participants’ health, using the same metrics used by the American Heart Association (AHA) such as physical activity, blood pressure, dietary intake and tobacco use. Participants were then asked to complete surveys designed to gauge their levels of optimism and mental health. Scores ranging from a 0 to 14 were ultimately provided, 0 indicating “poor,” and 14 indicating an ideal number. Numbers in the middle were considered intermediate.

It was found that individuals’ total health scores increased along with levels of optimism and that those who were the most optimistic were up to 76 percent more likely to have health scores that fell within the intermediate or ideal range. Overall, those who had the most positive mind sets were found to be twice as likely to have ideal cardiovascular health (CVH).

Researchers: Optimism Should be a Factor Cardiovascular Health Goals

“This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur through a biobehavioral mechanism,” says Rosalba Hernandez, lead author and a professor of social work at the University of Illinois, “suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being — e.g., optimism — may be a potential avenue for AHA to reach its goal of improving Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent before 2020.”(1)

The study, titled “Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA),” was recently published in Health Behavior and Policy Review. The article states that “Participants in the highest quartile of optimism were more likely to have intermediate…and ideal…CVH when compared to the least optimistic group” and concludes that its role in demonstrating a link between health and happiness was successful. “We offer evidence for a cross-sectional association between optimism and CVH.”(2)

Negative Self-Talk and How to Become More Optimistic

The Mayo Clinic, too, is on board with the notion that negativity is detrimental to health.

They note that regularly seeing the glass half empty can increase cardiovascular disease deaths, depression rates, life span and even make people less able to resist the common cold. It’s explained that remaining positive is not about ignoring unfortunate life circumstances, but rather managing them without deeply-rooted negative thoughts, which often come in the form of disruptive self-talk. Self-talk, it’s explained, is the “…endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head” which can be either positive or negative.(3)

Positive thinking comes by recognizing negative thoughts and working to reverse them. Development of inspirational personal mantras, eating nutritionally-balanced meals and engaging in social activities with upbeat people are a few ways to become, and hopefully remain, optimistic.

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