A smile a day keeps heart disease away

November 21, 2001

Viewing life's glass as half full may protect older men against coronary heart disease, a new study shows.

Based on a scoring system that characterized the men along the continuum from pessimist to optimist, each step up the scale toward optimism decreased the risk of coronary heart disease. The most optimistic men had a risk of heart disease less than half of that of the most pessimistic, according to the study in the November/December issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Although pessimistic men were more likely to have more than two alcoholic drinks a day and have lower educational attainment, these factors did not account for the difference in heart disease rates.

"These ... data are among the first to demonstrate that a more optimistic [perspective], or viewing the glass as half full, lowers the risk of CHD in older men," says lead author Laura D. Kubzansky, Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study is based on data from 1,306 men whose average age at enrollment was just over 60 and who were followed for an average of 10 years.

Despite the protective effect on the development of CHD, the optimistic men were no less likely to die of any cause, than were pessimistic men in this study. This may have been related to the fact that all the men, as veterans, had ready access to health care through the department of veterans' affairs, reducing their risk of dying from heart disease.

The researchers suggest that the protective effects of optimism may be, in part, due to lower stress, which has been shown to decrease heart disease risk. Also, optimists are more likely to engage in health-promoting activities such as exercising and not smoking.

However, they note that their findings pertain specifically only to white men and cannot be generalized to women or non-white men.

Kubzansky says other research has indicated that optimism "is at least partially learned" and that training programs to increase optimism may be useful. The study was supported with funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging.
Psychosomatic Medicine is the official bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. For information about the journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, M.D., at (619) 543-5468.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health (http://www.cfah.org). For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/cfah/. For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, iallen@cfah.org, (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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