Optimism is good for your heart?


Photo: Lamis Eli, Sarah Kiesewetter

A study was recently published online in the journal Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, showing that optimistic women are less likely to suffer from, or die of, heart disease. The study is actually really fascinating (the article abstract and the downloadable entire article can be found here.)

I think this particular study highlights some important points:

1. The study participants are very much like the group that we are trying to collect through the Illinois Women’s Health Registry (if you’re an Illinois resident, go join!). They were women in the government-funded Women’s Health Initiative, and the sheer number and racial diversity of participants allowed researchers to make new connections, simply by following the women’s health progress for a couple of years and administering very short questionnaires. It’s amazing what we can do when we all participate in these kind of registries!

2. I think the connection between mental well-being and physical health is really starting to become a key research topic and is likely changing the way patients are treated. As an admitted pessimistic cynic, I really do understand that those stress headaches and upset stomachs are taking their toll, and can be largely under my control. That’s pretty empowering, even for a pessimist.

3. It’s a great example of the benefits of studying several groups of people in scientific studies. The researchers found several statistical differences between the white and black women studied (the disparity in health outcomes between optimists and pessimists was much more striking in the black women studied, for example.) These differences would have been missed if men or white women were allowed to portray some standard of the everyperson.

So go read up! The questions used to classify a person as optimistic or hostile and cynical are particularly amusing, such as having to answer true or false to “ I have often had to take orders from someone who did not know as much as I did,” or “It is safer to trust nobody.”   I know I’ll be thinking twice about those negative thoughts about my higher-ups!