Does optimism help prevent stroke?

On a 16-point scale, each point increase in optimism correlated with a 9 percent reduction in stroke risk, according to a study by the University of Michigan.

A positive outlook on life might lower your risk of having a stroke, according to University of Michigan research reported online July 21, 2011 in the journal Stroke. A group of 6,044 adults over age 50 rated their optimism levels on a 16-point scale. Each point increase in optimism corresponded to a 9 percent decrease in acute stroke risk over a two-year follow-up period.

Optimism is the expectation that more good things, rather than bad, will happen. Image Credit: illuminator999

Stroke is the number three killer in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, and a leading cause of disability.

Eric Kim, lead author and a clinical psychology doctoral student, said:

Our work suggests that people who expect the best things in life actively take steps to promote health.

Optimism is the expectation that more good things, rather than bad, will happen.

Previous research has shown that an optimistic attitude is associated with better heart health outcomes and enhanced immune-system functioning, among other positive effects.

The study is the first to discover a correlation between optimism and stroke. Previous research has shown that low pessimism and temporary positive emotions are linked to lower stroke risk.

The protective effect of optimism may be due primarily to behavioral choices that people make, but some evidence suggests positive thinking might have a strictly biological impact. Image Credit: Ed Yourdon

After analyzing data from the ongoing Health and Retirement Study (for a two-year period), measuring optimism levels with a widely used assessment tool, and establishing the association between optimism and stroke, the researchers adjusted for factors that might affect stroke risk — such as chronic illness, self-reported health, and sociodemographic, behavioral, biological and psychological conditions.

Noting that researchers followed participants for only two years, Kim said:

Optimism seems to have a swift impact on stroke.

The protective effect of optimism may be due primarily to behavioral choices that people make, such as taking vitamins, eating a healthy diet and exercising, researchers said. However, some evidence suggests positive thinking might have a strictly biological impact, as well.

Bottom line: University of Michigan researchers led by Eric Kim have determined that maintaining an optimistic outlook likely lowers the risk of having a stroke. Results of their study appear in the July 21, 2011 online issue of Stroke.

Read more at American Heart Association

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