People with an optimistic outlook on life have much healthier cardiovascular systems, including significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels, new research shows.
“Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” University of Illinois Professor Rosalba Hernandez, the study’s lead author, said in a university news release.
Cardiovascular disease kills more than 17 million people worldwide each year, making it the globe’s No. 1 killer, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). That includes about one-third of all deaths annually in the United States.
The researchers assessed individuals based on seven metrics: physical activity; tobacco use; diet; blood sugar; body mass index; cholesterol; and blood pressure. As part of its Life’s Simple 7 public awareness campaign, the AHA has set targets for each of those metrics to improve the heart health of Americans.
The study, Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), was published in January 2015 in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review. It is not the first to find a relationship between optimism and cardiovascular health.
In a 2012 study, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that feelings such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction were linked to reductions in the risk of heart disease and stroke. Those feelings also appeared to slow the progression of cardiovascular disease.
According to its news release, the University of Illinois study is believed to be the first to investigate the relationship between cardiovascular health and optimism in a large and diverse population. The study sample, which was comprised of more than 5,100 individuals ages 45 to 84, was 38% white, 28% African-American, 22% Hispanic/Latino and 12% Chinese.
Participants were given health scores based on the Life’s Simple 7 metrics and also completed surveys about their level of optimism, mental health and physical health. Optimists tended to be more active, smoked less and had healthier body mass indexes – all of which are contributing factors in cardiovascular health.
“Individuals’ total health scores increased in tandem with their levels of optimism,” the university news release stated.
Previous research has shown that individuals who raised their health score by 1 point saw their risk of suffering a stroke drop by 8%.
“At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates,” Hernandez said.