People who expect good things to happen in the future is more likely than less optimistic peers to survive in the decades after a first heart attack, a study conducted in Israel suggests.
The results do not prove that optimism prolongs life, but the doctors still need to consider including optimism training in patients’ rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction, the study team writes in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
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“It is important to note that optimism is not only a pink glow over the whole world; in contrast, optimists are more likely to recognize the risks and plan how to deal with them,” senior author Yariv Gerber said by e-mail.
Optimists may be more likely to take on challenges such as making the lifestyle changes recommended after heart attacks, added Gerber, who is the chair of epidemiology and preventive medicine department in the school of public health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, University of Tel Aviv.
Optimists may also have less inflammation in their bodies, a condition that can have a negative impact on the health of the heart, he noted.
To investigate whether the relationship between optimism and heart attack patients survive, researchers studied 664 people who are under the age of 65 in 1992 and 1993, when they had their first myocardial infarction.
The average age at the time of the heart attack was 52; 15 percent are women. While she was in the hospital recovering, participants a Life Orientation Test, which will be assessed on their general level of optimism or pessimism.
In 2015, researchers followed to see who was still alive. They found that 284 patients (43 per cent had died.
After accounting for things like age, gender, education, employment, smoking, and emotional factors such as depression and social support, the study team found that the people who scored in the top third for optimism, that after the first heart attack, 33 percent less likely to have died in the course of the years than those with scores in the lower and middle third.
The most optimistic people were also more likely to be educated, employees, and social support, the study found, and optimists were less likely to smoke or become depressed.
An increasing number of scientific studies have demonstrated a correlation between the emotional well-being and physical health, said Heather Rasmussen, a psychologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, in an email to Reuters Health.
Optimists may be more likely to have a healthier behavior and to find positive social support from people in their lives, said Rasmussen, who was not involved in the study.
“Other researchers have suggested that optimism and positive emotions can even affect a person’s biology,” Rasmussen said. “All of these ideas have some research to support – but we need additional studies to further figure out these relationships.”
It may not be possible to turn someone into an optimist, since the property can be inherited, or on the basis of past experiences, Gerber noted. However, even if people do not learn to be optimistic, they can learn ways of coping, or that optimists use.
“In other words, even if you do not enable a person in an optimist, you may be able to teach him/her to ‘act’ as a” Gerber said.