Hearty Optimists

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Cheerful people are twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their pessimistic peers

People are often told optimism and cheerfulness are beneficial attitudes to have. But does such a disposition have any tangible health benefits?

According to a new study, published by researchers from the University of Illinois in the US in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review, optimistic people have healthier hearts.

The researchers examined cardiovascular health in over 5,100 adults of various ethnicities in the US. The sample for the study was 38 per cent White, 28 per cent African- American, 22 per cent Hispanic and 12 per cent Chinese. They measured participants’ blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels—along with dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use— rating each either 0, 1, or 2 (poor, intermediate, or ideal, respectively). The numbers were added together to create an overall cardiovascular health score, a number somewhere between 0 and 14. The participants also answered questionaires that measured their mental health, optimism and physical health.

The authors found that people who were more optimistic were 50 per cent more likely to have health scores in the intermediate range— and 76 per cent more likely to have health scores in the ideal range. Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels. They were also more physically active, had healthier BMIs and were less likely to smoke.

Rosalba Hernandez, lead author of the study, says in a press release: ‘Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts. This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.’ These results have far-reaching implications, as even a small difference in a cardiovascular health score can dramatically decrease a person’s risk of stroke. ‘At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates,’ Hernandez adds.