Optimistic outlook may benefit lungs

May 20, 2002

ATLANTA--An optimistic outlook may improve lung function, suggests a study presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Atlanta on May 20. The study of 670 older men found that those with a more optimistic outlook had significantly higher levels of lung function and a slower rate of decline in lung function than more pessimistic men.

"Previous studies have shown a link between optimism and enhanced well-being, while pessimism has been shown to be a risk factor for poor physical health," said lead researcher Rosalind J. Wright, M.D., M.P.H., Instructor in Medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. "This is the first study to show such a link specifically between optimism and improved lung function over time."

Dr. Wright said that a person's outlook may somehow influence the body's immune system processes that play a role in the airway inflammation associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"The study suggests there may be reversible factors that may have an impact on patients' long-term rate of lung function decline, which has been shown to be related to a person's risk of mortality," Dr. Wright said. "Preliminary studies on heart patients have suggested that through behavior modification to change a person's outlook, you can improve a person's mortality risk. Further research may show whether improving a person's outlook can lengthen life and improve the quality of life in patients with lung disease."

The study followed 670 men, the majority of whom were white, and whose average age was 63 years at the beginning of the study. They were followed for an average of eight years, and had an average of three lung exams during that time. Men who were shown to be more optimistic according to a questionnaire derived from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) had significantly higher lung function, and a slower rate of decline in lung function compared with more pessimistic men.

"It has been suggested that pessimistic people may be more likely to smoke to control stress and negative emotions, but we found that optimism was linked to improved lung function even after we took smoking into account," she said.

Dr. Wright and colleagues are now using study data from a more diverse population to see whether optimism and pessimism have the same effect on lung function in women, in younger people, and in people of different races. "There are differences in the way that men and women tend to internalize stress and experience emotions, so it will be interesting to see whether their outlook affects their lung function differently," she said.

American Thoracic Society

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