A nationally representative 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.
“When people have a positive outlook on life, they undertake actions more likely to produce good outcomes,” said Eric Kim, the study’s lead author and a clinical psychology doctoral student.
Previous research has shown that an optimistic attitude is associated with better heart health outcomes and enhanced immune-system functioning, among other positive effects. This study is the first known to discover a correlation between optimism and stroke.
Researchers analyzed self-reported stroke and psychological data from the ongoing Health and Retirement Study, collected between 2006 and 2008. Participants were stroke-free at the beginning of the study.
Researchers measured optimism levels with the modified Life Orientation Test-Revised, a widely used assessment tool in which participants rank their responses on a numeric scale.
The team used logistic regression analysis to establish the association between optimism and stroke and adjusted for factors that might affect stroke risk, including chronic illness, self-reported health, behavioral, biological and psychological conditions.
“Optimism seems to have a swift impact on stroke,” said Kim, who collaborated on the research with his Department of Psychology colleagues Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson.
The protective effect of optimism may primarily be due 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
The findings appear in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. The AHA reports that stroke is the third leading killer in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer.
Contact: Jared Wadley
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