Heart : Look on the Bright Side for Heart Health

Want to support cardiovascular health? Stay positive, says a new study. People who are optimistic seem to have a significant advantage when it comes to heart health.

"Research has already shown a link between psychological pathology and poor physical health," says the study's lead author Rosalba Hernandez. "So we decided to look at whether there's also a link between psychological well-being and good physical health."

Researchers found that even after adjusting for socio-economic factors like education, income and even mental health, individuals who are the most optimistic are more likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health, compared with people who are the least optimistic.

To explore a potential connection between a sunny outlook and heart health, the study authors analyzed data from more than 5,100 adults who ranged in age from 52 to 84 between 2002 and 2004 and had been enrolled in the "Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis."

As part of the study, all the participants had completed a standardized test that gauged optimism levels. Participants were then divided into four groups, ranging from the least optimistic to the most optimistic, based on their responses.

The researchers then scored each group's heart health by reviewing body mass index (BMI), smoking status, dietary and physical activity routines, blood pressure, fasting glucose levels, and cholesterol levels.

The result: the optimists were between 50 percent and 76 percent more likely to have total heart health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges. Those with an optimistic outlook also had better blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a healthier BMI status, and more rigorous physically activity habits than those in the least optimistic group.

"There's a lot of psychological research linking pro-social behaviors to better health," says Kit Yarrow, professor emeritus of consumer psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "Gratitude, for example, has been linked to lower impulsivity, higher salaries, better sleep and stronger relationships. And this strikes me as yet another study that reinforces an intuitive knowledge that probably most people have that our mind and body are linked."
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