People who have optimistic outlooks on life are twice more likely than pessimists to be in good heart health, according to a new study which examined the association between optimism and cardiovascular health.
"Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts," says the study's lead author Rosalba Hernandez, according to a news report by the University of Illinois.
"This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health," adds Hernandez, a professor of social work at the university.
The study, which used data collected from more than 5,100 adults aged 52-84 between 2002 and 2004, was recently published in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review.
Optimism leads to significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels, the study suggests. Optimists are more physically active, have healthier body mass indexes and are less likely to smoke.
The study used seven metrics, same as the American Heart Association does to define heart health: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use.
People who were the most optimistic were twice as likely to have ideal cardiovascular health, and 55 percent more likely to have a total health score in the intermediate range, the researchers found.
To underline the study's potential clinical significance, Hernandez quoted a 2013 study as indicating that even a small increase in an individual's total-health score is associated with an 8 percent reduction in their risk of stroke.
"At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates," Hernandez said. "This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur through a biobehavioral mechanism, 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."
The association between optimism and cardiovascular health becomes stronger if you consider socio-demographic characteristics such as age, race and ethnicity, income and education status, says the report by Hernandez and fellow researchers from Northwestern University, Chapman University, Harvard University and Drexel University.
The sample for the study was 38 percent white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Hispanic/Latino and 12 percent Chinese.