Optimistic people are more likely to have healthy hearts, according to a new study of more than 4,900 people carried out by the University of Illinois.
The participants cardiovascular health was assessed using the American Heart Association’s ‘Life’s Simple 7’ metrics, which include blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use.
Levels of ‘dispositional optimism’ – their expectation that good things will happen in the future – was measured using the Life Orientation Test-Revised. The test asks participants how much they agree with statements such as, ‘In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.’ Possible scores range from six (least optimistic) to 30 (most optimistic).
Those with the highest levels of optimism also tended to be older, married or living with a partner, better educated and more affluent, the researchers found.
The study’s principal investigator, Rosalba Hernandez, said: ’Each unit increase in an adult’s level of optimism was associated with 3 per cent higher odds of meeting the criteria for ideal cardiovascular health across four or more metrics.’
‘The correlation between optimism and cardiovascular health was consistent across heritage groups, regardless of age, sex, nativity status or level of acculturation.’
Few of the individuals who scored low in optimism met the criteria for ideal heart health, according to the researchers. However, each percentage point increase in optimism was associated with a better cardiovascular health score.
In a related project, Hernandez is examining whether individuals with high blood pressure can be taught to be more optimistic and if greater optimism moderates participants’ hypertension.
‘We don’t know much about the connections between emotional and physical health,’ Hernandez said. ‘However, if we can identify certain strengths within a population that can be used to improve their health, that would be fantastic.’