and Medicine for Seniors
Most optimistic older adults have the healthiest
People up through age 84 with most positive attitudes
twice as likely to have best cardiovascular health
9, 2015 - Older people with a positive, upbeat attitude also have
significantly better cardiovascular health. And, as the positive
attitude scores climbed, so did the health scores in this study that
included seniors up to age 85. Those with most optimism were twice is
likely to enjoy a healthy heart.
"Individuals with the highest levels of optimism
have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to
their more pessimistic counterparts," said lead author Rosalba
Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois.
"This association remains significant, even after
adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health."
Participants' cardiovascular health was assessed
using seven metrics:
● blood pressure,
● body mass index,
● fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels,
● dietary intake,
● physical activity and
● tobacco use.
These are the same metrics used by the American
Heart Association to define heart health and being targeted by the AHA
in its Life's Simple 7 public awareness campaign.
In accordance with AHA's heart-health criteria, the
researchers allocated 0, 1 or 2 points - representing poor, intermediate
and ideal scores, respectively - to participants on each of the seven
health metrics, which were then summed to arrive at a total
cardiovascular health score.
Among the more than 5,100 participants' total
health scores ranged from 0 to 14, with a higher total score indicative
of better health.
The participants, who ranged in age from 45-84,
also completed surveys that assessed their mental health, levels of
optimism, and physical health, based upon self-reported extant medical
diagnoses of arthritis, liver and kidney disease.
Individuals' total health scores increased in
tandem with their levels of optimism. People who were the most
optimistic were 50 and 76 percent more likely to have total health
scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively.
The association between optimism and cardiovascular
health was even stronger when socio-demographic characteristics such as
age, race and ethnicity, income and education status were factored in.
People who were the most optimistic were twice as likely to have ideal
cardiovascular health, and 55 percent more likely to have a total health
score in the intermediate range, the researchers found.
Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and
total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more
physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely
to smoke, according to a paper on the research that appears in the
January/February 2015 issue of Health Behavior and Policy Review.
The findings may be of clinical significance, given
that a 2013 study indicated that a one-point increase in an individual's
total-health score on the LS7 was associated with an 8 percent reduction
in their risk of stroke, Hernandez said.
"At the population level, even this moderate
difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant
reduction in death rates," Hernandez said.
"This evidence, which is hypothesized to occur
through a biobehavioral mechanism, suggests that prevention strategies
that target modification of psychological well-being - e.g., optimism -
may be a potential avenue for AHA to reach its goal of improving
Americans' cardiovascular health by 20 percent before 2020."
Believed to be the first study to examine the
association of optimism and cardiovascular health in a large, ethnically
and racially diverse population, the sample for the current study was 38
percent white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Hispanic/Latino
and 12 percent Chinese.
Data for the study were derived from the
Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, an ongoing examination of
subclinical cardiovascular disease that includes 6,000 people from six
U.S. regions, including Baltimore, Chicago, Forsyth County in North
Carolina, and Los Angeles County.
Begun in July 2000, MESA followed participants for
11 years, collecting data every 18 months to two years. Hernandez, who
is an affiliated investigator on MESA, is leading a team in conducting
prospective analyses on the associations found between optimism and
"We now have available data to examine optimism at
baseline and cardiovascular health a decade later," said Hernandez, who
expects to have an abstract completed in 2015.
Co-authors of this study were Kiarri N. Kershaw of
Northwestern University; Juned Siddique, Honghan Ning and Donald M.
Lloyd-Jones, all of Northwestern University; Julia K. Boehm of Chapman
University; Laura D. Kubzansky of Harvard University; and Ana Diez-Roux
of Drexel University.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and
the National Center for Research Resources funded the research.