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An Optimistic Attitude May Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease usually affects older adults, but the antecedents begin in early life, especially atherosclerosis. A recent study suggests that having an optimistic attitude may help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Participants in the study included 6,000 people between the ages of 45 and 84 who took part in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. They lived in six U.S. regions, including Baltimore, Chicago, Forsyth County in North Carolina, and Los Angeles County. This is the first study looking at the correlation between optimism and cardiovascular health that is racially and ethnically diverse. Participants were 38% white, 28% African-American, 22% Hispanic/Latino, and 12% Chinese.

The study period started in July 2000 and continued for 11 years, with researchers collecting data every 18 months to two years. The data included assessments of mental health, levels of optimism, and physical health.

The researchers used the metrics from the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 public health campaign to determine heart health. The metrics include blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity, and tobacco use.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that increases in optimism scores correlated with increases in health scores. In fact, the most optimistic participants were 50 to 76% more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges.

When the researchers adjusted for socio-demographic characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, income, and education status, optimistic people were twice as likely as not optimistic people to have good cardiovascular health. They were also 55% more likely to have a total health score in the intermediate range.

Finally, optimists had better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than non-optimists. They also were more physically active, had healthier BMIs, and were less likely to be smokers.

Researchers from the University of Illinois conducted the study. It was published in the January 2015 issue of Health Behavior and Policy Review.

Maintaining an optimistic attitude can be difficult, especially for people with busy, stressful lives. Some studies suggest that practicing mindfulness, participating in yoga, and cultivating habits outside of work may help raise optimism.

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