German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his famous work theodicy coined the term, ‘Best of all possible worlds,’ meaning that the existing world is the best world that God could have created. ‘Optimism’ which embraces two closely correlated concepts the first of inclination of hope and the second to believe that we live in the best possible world, has a significant effect on our mental well-being. In fact, according to a study, the most optimistic people have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health as their pessimistic counterparts.
A recent study that looked at the relationships between optimism and heart health in over 5,100 persons found that those with positive outlooks on life have much better cardiovascular 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.”
Assessing cardiovascular health
Blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, food intake, physical activity, and tobacco use were the seven metrics used to assess the cardiovascular health of the participants. These are the same metrics that the American Heart Association uses to define heart health and that the AHA is focusing on in its Life’s Simple 7 public awareness campaign.
The researchers gave participants a total cardiovascular health score by adding up their scores for each of the seven health measures. These scores were then divided into three categories, signifying poor, intermediate, and optimal scores, respectively, based on the American Heart Association’s heart health guidelines. The total health scores of the participants varied from 0 to 14, where a higher total score denoted greater health.
In addition, the 45–84-year-old participants filled out questionnaires evaluating their physical, mental, and optimistic states of health based on their self-reported current medical diagnoses of kidney, liver, and arthritis.
Total health scores increase in tandem with the level of optimism
People’s overall health ratings rose in proportion to their optimism levels. The most optimistic individuals had a 50 percent and 76 percent higher likelihood of having total health scores in the ideal or intermediate levels, respectively.
When sociodemographic factors including age, race and ethnicity, income, and educational attainment were considered, the relationship between optimism and cardiovascular health was even more pronounced. The researchers discovered that those who were the most optimistic were 55% more likely to have an overall health score in the middle range and twice as likely to have optimal cardiovascular health.
Compared to pessimists, optimists had far lower blood sugar and total cholesterol levels. An article on the subject appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Health Behaviour and Policy Review. They also had healthier body mass indices, were less likely to smoke, and were more physically active.
Modification of psychological well-being may have the potential to improve cardiovascular health
Hernandez noted that a 2013 study found that an increase of one point in a person’s total health score on the LS7 was linked to an 8 percent reduction in stroke risk, suggesting that the findings may have therapeutic implications.
“At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates,” Hernandez said. “This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur through a biobehavioural mechanism, suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being — e.g., optimism — may be a potential avenue for AHA to reach its goal of improving Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent before 2020.”
This study, which is thought to be the first to look at the relationship between optimism and cardiovascular health in a broad, racially, and ethnically diverse group, included 22% African Americans, 22% Hispanic/Latinos, 12% Chinese, and 38% White participants.
The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, an ongoing investigation of subclinical cardiovascular disease including 6,000 participants from six U.S. regions—Baltimore, Chicago, Forsyth County, North Carolina, and Los Angeles County—provided the study’s data.
Further examining the association between optimism and heart health
MESA, which started in July 2000, collected data every 18 months to two years while following participants over 11 years. Hernandez, an affiliated scientist on MESA, oversees organizing a group that is performing prospective analysis of the correlations between heart health and optimism.
“We now have available data to examine optimism at baseline and cardiovascular health a decade later,” said Hernandez, who expects to have an abstract completed in 2015.
The following Northwestern University faculty members contributed to the current work as co-authors: Julia K. Boehm of Chapman University, Laura D. Kubzansky of Harvard University, Ana Diez-Roux of Drexel University, Juned Siddique, Honghan Ning, and Donald M. Lloyd-Jones.
The study was financed by the National Centre for Research Resources and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Materials provided by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Rosalba Hernandez, Kiarri N. Kershaw, Juned Siddique, Julia K. Boehm, Laura D. Kubzansky, Ana Diez-Roux, Hongyan Ning, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones. Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Health Behavior and Policy Review, 2015; 2 (1): 62 DOI: 10.14485/HBPR.2.1.6
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Optimistic people have healthier hearts, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150109123502.htm>.
Help is here:
Name of the Organisation: India Heart Foundation:
The India Heart Foundation is a collective that works with doctors from across the country empowering them to reach out to the people around them better. They are creating medical educational resources and building a global cardiovascular community to promote cardiovascular health at a regional and national level.
Contact: Telephone: +91 8220277777
Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation
Vandrevala Foundation is a non-profit that partners with organizations to help communities thrive by providing education and healthcare. Vandrevala Foundation launched a mental health helpline in India in 2009 to offer free psychological counselling and crisis mediation to anyone experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness, and relationship conflict.
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: +91 9999 666 555