The leader of the study, Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois said that:
“individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts”.
They studied this link in more than 5,100 adults, determining blood pressure, fasting plasma glucose, level of cholesterol found in blood, body mass index, physical activity, dietary intake and tobacco use. The same metrics were used by the American Heart Association to define heart health, including them in its “Life’s Simple” public awareness campaign.
Each participant would be given 0, 1 or 2 points linked to each of the seven metrics. The points represent a poor, intermediate or ideal metric state. At the end, all the points given to a participant were summed up in order to calculate the total cardiovascular health score which could range from 0 to 14 points, the higher the score the better the person’s health.
Participants between the ages of 45 to 84 were further examined to determine their mental health and their levels of optimism. Their also examined their physical health as it influences the development of arthritis, liver and kidney disease.
The results showed that the total health scores were directly proportional to the participants’ level of optimism with highly optimistic people having a 50 to 76 percent higher chances of their total health scores to range between intermediate and ideal. Including socio-demographic factors such as race, age, education status and income only strengthened the association between optimism and cardiovascular health.
The study also showed that optimists had lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol in comparison to the pessimists. Furthermore, participants with a higher level of optimism had healthier body mass indexes and were physically more active.
Hernandez explained the importance of a high total-health score by referring to a research conducted in 2013 which showed that an increase of one point in total-health score was linked to an 8 percent lower risk of stroke.
She further stated that “at the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates.”
As a conclusion, it seems that biobehavioral mechanisms should be taken into consideration when treating patients. A strategy targeting the modification of psychological well-being, thus increasing optimism should be considered a goal when trying to improve cardiovascular health.
The research has been published in the January/February 2015 issue of Health Behavior and Policy Review.
Image Source: Sephora