Optimism’s linked to a healthier heart

Being positive when things are going wrong can be a struggle, but a new study suggests it’s seriously worth a try. According to new research from the University of Illinois, there’s a significant link between optimism and good heart health.

Rosalba Hernandez and her team looked at data from more than 5100 adults of different ages from diverse social and racial backgrounds which had been collected as part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis between 2000 and 2011.

They assessed participants’ cardiovascular health by looking at their blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity, and tobacco use, which is how the American Heart Association gauges heart health.

The researchers allocated a score of 0, 1 or 2 for each metric, and then added them up to determine the total score for each person, which ranged from 0 to 14. Participants had also been surveyed about their physical and mental health and how optimistic they felt.

They found that the more physically healthy people were, the more optimistic they reported being (and vice versa). Hernandez says, ‘Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts.’ They were also less likely to smoke and more likely to have good blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This was the case even after adjusting for variables like poverty and mental illness.

Whether the optimism or the great health comes first, however, hasn’t yet been tested. But the good news is that even small lifestyle changes can lead to better heart health: even a one-point increase could reduce someone’s risk of stroke by 8%. That means that anything you can do that’s good for your heart, whether exercising a little more or slapping on a smile, has to be worth a try.

Image via Ben Smith’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley