Don’t Worry, Be Happy. It’s Good for Your Heart.

happyfacePeople who have upbeat outlooks on life are twice as likely to have better cardiovascular health, than those whose outlooks are less rosy, according to a recently published study that looked at links between optimism and heart health.

 “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” said lead author Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois. “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Participants’ cardiovascular health was assessed using seven metrics: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use – the same metrics used by the American Heart Association to define heart health. These steps are also targeted by the AHA in its Life’s Simple 7 public awareness campaign.

In accordance with AHA’s heart-health criteria, the researchers allocated 0, 1 or 2 points –representing poor, intermediate and ideal scores, respectively – to more than 5,100 adult participants on each of the seven health metrics. Points were then added up to obtain a total cardiovascular health score. Participants’ total health scores ranged from 0 to 14, a higher total score meant better health.

Participants ranged in age from 45-84. They completed surveys that assessed their mental health, levels of optimism, and physical health, based upon self-reported existence of arthritis, liver and kidney disease. Individuals’ total health scores increased along with their levels of optimism.

Researchers found that the most optimistic people were 50 and 76 percent more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively. The association between optimism and cardiovascular health was even stronger when sociodemographic characteristics such as age, race and ethnicity, income and education status were factored in. People who were the most optimistic were twice as likely to have ideal cardiovascular health, and 55 percent more likely to have a total health score in the intermediate range, the researchers found.

Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke. The findings may be of clinical significance, given that a 2013 study indicated that a one-point increase in an individual’s total-health score on the LS7 was associated with an 8 percent reduction in their risk of stroke, Hernandez said.

“At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates,” Hernandez said.

Researchers believe this is the first study that examines the association of optimism and cardiovascular health in a large, ethnically and racially diverse population. Participants for the current study were 38 percent white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Hispanic/Latino and 12 percent Chinese. Data for the study were derived from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), an ongoing examination of subclinical cardiovascular disease that includes 6,800 people from six U.S. regions.

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