People who have upbeat outlooks on life have significantly better cardiovascular health, suggests a new study that examined associations between optimism and heart health in more than 5,100 adults.
"Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts," said lead author Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois. "This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health." Participants' cardiovascular health was assessed using seven metrics: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use -- the same metrics used by the American Heart Association to define heart health and being targeted by the AHA in its Life's Simple 7 public awareness campaign. In accordance with AHA's heart-health criteria, the researchers allocated 0, 1 or 2 points -- representing poor, intermediate and ideal scores, respectively -- to participants on each of the seven health metrics, which were then summed to arrive at a total cardiovascular health score. Participants' total health scores ranged from 0 to 14, with a higher total score indicative of better health.
The participants, who ranged in age from 45-84, also completed surveys that assessed their mental health, levels of optimism, and physical health, based upon self-reported extant medical diagnoses of arthritis, liver and kidney disease. Individuals' total health scores increased in tandem with their levels of optimism. People who were the most optimistic were 50 and 76 percent more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively. he association between optimism and cardiovascular health was even stronger when socio-demographic characteristics such as age, race and ethnicity, income and education status were factored in. 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.
Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke, according to a paper on the research that appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Health Behavior and Policy Review.