A positive mental attitude appears to have a more powerful impact on the 15-year survival chances of cardiac patients even after the severity of their disease is taken into account, scientists from Duke University Medical Center revealed in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Lead study author, John Barefoot, PhD, explained that theirs was a unique study because it demonstrated that an individual’s attitude towards their illness has a double impact:

  • It influences their return to a normal lifestyle
  • It significantly improves their long-term health and survival chances (helps patients live longer)

Barefoot and team tracked the progress of heart patients after they had undergone coronary angiography to evaluate blood flow in the heart. Even though previous studies had gauged how a patient’s expectations influenced how well they went about their work, exercise and other daily activities, this study showed how it also influenced overall physical health and longevity.

Over 2,800 cardiac patients were asked to evaluate how well they expected to recover and return to a normal lifestyle – each was given a psychological questionnaire.

1,637 of them died within fifteen years. 885 (54%) from cardiovascular disease.

Even after taking into account several impacting factors, such as coronary disease severity, sex, socioeconomic status, social support, age, and general functional ability when hospitalized, the higher risk of death remained.

Barefoot said:

“We know there is a relationship between depression and increased rates of mortality. These findings demonstrate the magnitude of the impact of patient expectations on the recovery process above and beyond depression and other psychological or social factors.”

The authors explained that positive thinkers had several things that favored them, such as better treatment compliance (adherence), and a higher likelihood of trying things out that are good for their physical and mental health. Some say that pessimism, i.e. negative thinking, leads to stress and tension, which can be damaging for health.

Barefoot said:

“The take-home message is that having positive expectations can not only make you feel better but also potentially live longer.”

“Recovery Expectations and Long-term Prognosis of Patients With Coronary Heart Disease”
John C. Barefoot, PhD; Beverly H. Brummett, PhD; Redford B. Williams, MD; Ilene C. Siegler, PhD, MPH; Michael J. Helms, BS; Stephen H. Boyle, PhD; Nancy E. Clapp-Channing, RN, MPH; Daniel B. Mark, MD
Arch Intern Med. Published online February 28, 2011. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.41