Happy mind healthy heart? Study finds optimists twice as likely to have healthy hearts than pessimists

Results from a study published earlier this month have demonstrated a strong positive correlation between optimism and heart health. 5,100 American adults between the ages of 45-84 took part in the study, led by Professor Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois. The study was funded by The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Centre for Research Resources.

The participant group was racially mixed – 38 percent white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Hispanic or Latino and 12 percent Chinese. The findings are significant as this is the first study to look at the association of optimism and cardiovascular health using a large and ethnically diverse sample.

“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.” – Rosalba Hernandez, University of Illinois

Heart health was measured using the seven factors defined by the American Heart Association [AHA]: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use. A score of 0 [poor], 1 [intermediate] or 2 [ideal] was given to each participant for each factor determining heart health – the sum of which added up to each participants total cardiovascular health score – a total score of 14 being excellent. Each participant also completed a selection of surveys regarding mental health, optimism levels and physical health.

Key findings

  • Total cardiovascular health score for participants increased with optimism levels
  • This correlation increased when socio-demographic factors such as age and wealth were included
  • The most optimistic participants were twice as likely to have ideal cardiovascular health and 55 percent more likely to have a total cardiovascular health score in the intermediate range
  • Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels compared to the rest of the group
  • Optimists were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke

“This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur through a biobehavioural mechanism, suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological wellbeing, e.g. optimism, may be a potential avenue for AHA to reach its goal of improving Americans cardiovascular health by 20 percent before 2020.” – Rosalba Hernandez, University of Illinois

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