Is your glass half full or half empty? If you are over the age of 50 and full of optimism, you are likely to be at lower risk of heart failure, according to a new study.
The research team, led by Eric Kim of the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, recently published their findings in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
Past studies have indicated that higher levels of optimism – an expectation that positive things will happen – may be beneficial to health. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that a positive attitude may increase the life of heart disease patients.
Heart failure affects more than 5.1 million people in the US, and around 50% of those with the condition die within 5 years of diagnosis.
According to the research team, over 80% of heart failure diagnoses are in people aged 65 years and over. Therefore, they wanted to look at how optimism affects the risk of heart failure in older patients – a relationship they say has not been studied previously.
In collaboration with investigators from Harvard University, the researchers analyzed the background information, health history and psychological data of 6,808 older adults who were a part of the Health and Retirement Study.
All participants were followed for 4 years, and researchers took into account certain factors that could impact subjects’ heart failure risk, such as health behaviors, chronic illnesses, and biological and demographic factors.
The investigators found that individuals who had higher levels of optimism had a 73% lower risk of heart failure over the study period, compared with those who were pessimistic.
The team says previous research has found that optimism may cause people to adopt healthier lifestyles, such as following a healthier diet, exercising more and managing stress levels, which could explain these latest findings.
Kim told Medical News Today that recent research has also shown that optimism can be systemically increased, and this, combined with adoption of healthier lifestyles, could lead to new prevention strategies for heart failure.
“As these two lines of research continue to grow, I think it would eventually be interesting to test if people who decide to participate in optimism interventions start acting in healthier ways and accumulate better health. More research is needed before we get to that point, but it’s an intriguing idea.”
Before they can come to any solid conclusions, Kim said that these latest findings need to be replicated and a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms is required.
“If enough replications are conducted and we can discover the causal mechanisms, then randomized controlled trials (the type of study that can isolate causality) might be warranted,” he added.
But although the researchers cannot say definitively whether being optimistic may lead to a healthier heart, Kim said that having a positive attitude is unlikely to cause any harm.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study revealing that nostalgic feelings about the past may increase current feelings of optimism.