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Doctor holding heart


If you ever needed a reason to come up with a more upbeat outlook on life, start thinking of your heart.

Time reports on a new study that makes the connection between a positive attitude and sound cardiovascular health.

The exhaustive study from the University of Illinois focused on the mental health, physical health and levels of optimism of 5,100 adults between the ages of 45 and 84 over an 11-year period.

The study, which is available in its entirety here, is believed to be the first of its kind to make the link between optimism and cardiovascular health among an ethnically and racially diverse population. The study group itself was 38 per cent white, 28 per cent African-American, 22 per cent Latino and 12 per cent Asian.

Going into the study, the cardiovascular health of participants was determined by seven metrics: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use – the same metrics employed by the American Heart Association to define heart health.

In keeping with the AHA guidelines, researchers awarded zero, one or two points – designating poor, intermediate and ideal scores – to participants on each of the seven health metrics. Those figures were then added together to reach a total cardiovascular health score.

Participants also filled out surveys assessing their levels of mental health, optimism and physical health, factoring in self-reported extant medical issues like arthritis, liver disease and kidney disease.

What they discovered: The total health scores of the participants increased commensurately with the levels of optimism. Researchers concluded that those test subjects who were the most optimistic were up to 76 per cent more likely to have total health scores in the ideal range.

"Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts," said study author Rosalba Hernandez.

And what really surprised researchers: The link between optimism and cardiovascular health was even stronger when socio-demographic characteristics – including race, age, ethnicity, income and education status – were factored into the equation.

All told, those test subjects deemed to be the most optimistic were roughly twice as likely to enjoy ideal cardiovascular health, and 55 per cent more likely to have a total health score in the intermediate range.

"This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health."

In addition, optimists were found to have significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their dour counterparts. As a group, they were also more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less inclined to smoke.

And the University of Illinois study isn't the first clinical research to suggest a connection between an upbeat attitude and heart health.

The New York Times summarizes a separate 2012 Harvard University study indicating that character traits like optimism and hope, along with higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with one's life, resulted in reductions in the risk of heart disease and stroke.


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