Researchers from the University of Michigan and Harvard University found that optimism—an expectation that good things will happen—among people age 50 and older significantly reduced their risk of heart failure. Compared to the least optimistic people in the study, the most optimistic people had a 73-percent reduced risk of heart failure over the follow-up period.
Eric Kim, a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author, and colleagues analyzed data on 6,808 older adults from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel study of people over age 50. Respondents, who were followed for four years, provided background information about themselves, health history and psychological data.
Higher optimism was associated with a lower risk of heart failure during the study’s follow-up period—a finding that could eventually contribute to creating new strategies in the health care industry to prevent or delay the onset of this epidemic, Kim said.
The researchers said that the protective effect of optimism might be explained by previous research, which has shown that optimism is associated with important health behaviors (eating healthier diets, exercising more, managing stress), enhanced physiological functioning and other positive health outcomes that are strongly linked with a decreased risk of heart failure.
A 2010 study was the first American research to find a very strong link between positive emotions and a lower risk of heart disease, an “independent relationship” spelled out through clear data, as opposed to just being based on a person’s own report of their attitude. A 2006 Dutch study showed a 50% lower risk from cardiovascular death for the elderly men identified as optimistic and studied over 15 years.
The study’s other authors were Jacqui Smith, a professor in U-M’s Department of Psychology and Institute for Social Research, and Laura Kubzansky, a professor at Harvard’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The findings appear online in the new issue of Circulation: Heart Failure.
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