Do optimists live longer?

The underlying factors that govern our health and longevity are not merely cheerfulness versus moroseness, they are positive versus negative attitudes, compassion versus hostility, love versus hate.

We're told to always look on the bright side of life and now it seems there's a good reason why. According to a new study by a group of scientists at University College London, adopting a positive mental attitude lowers the risk of suffering a heart attack, requiring surgery and even death.

The study published in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review was the first to examine associations between optimism and heart health in more than 5,000 US adults. Their heart health was measured and scored as poor, intermediate and ideal. The scoring was based on their blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar readings, cholesterol levels, diet, physical activity and whether they used tobacco.

People who were the most optimistic were 50 and 76 per cent more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively; while pessimistic patients were twice as likely to have depressive symptoms a year after suffering a heart attack or unstable angina.

The association between optimism and cardiovascular health was even stronger when socio-demographic characteristics such as age, race and ethnicity, income and education status were factored in.

Additionally, optimists are twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health, according to a new study led by Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois. Further, optimistic individuals recover more quickly following cardiac-related events, such as coronary artery bypass surgery and myocardial infarction, with a more rapid return to a normal lifestyle and a better reported quality of life. Also, optimism appears to be associated with lower levels of distress, slower disease progression and improved survival rates in patients with HIV.

Finally, the scientists hope their findings will help identify the patients most at risk of suffering serious health complications in the years after recovering from heart problems.

'Our findings could be used to identify pessimistic patients and encourage them to make the necessary changes to their lifestyle that can ultimately lead to better health.'

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