THURSDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- The more optimistic you
are, the lower your risk of having a stroke, a new study
"Optimism protects against stroke," said researcher Eric Kim, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan. While it is not cause-and-effect link, Kim and his colleagues did find a significant association.
The finding is published in the July 21 online issue of
The possible stroke protection lengthens the list of health
benefits tied to being optimistic, Kim said. Already, various
studies have found more optimistic people have a healthier immune
system, faster wound healing, a lower risk of heart disease and
other benefits, he said.
For the new study, Kim and his colleagues looked at data from
the Health and Retirement Study. This is a nationally
representative sample of U.S. adults over the age of 50.
The team looked at the results of standard optimism tests for
6,044 men and women. All were free of stroke at the study's start.
The optimism score was on a 16-point scale. The participants
self-rated their health, and the team followed them for two years.
During the follow-up period, 88 cases of stroke occurred.
After adjusting for age, each unit increase in their optimism
score reduced stroke risk about 9 percent, Kim said.
The researchers also adjusted for other factors such as smoking,
alcohol use, race, gender, marital status, blood pressure, chronic
illness, mental illness, body mass index and level of physical
activity. They found the association between optimism and reduced
risk of stroke remained robust.
How to explain the association? One possibility is that those
who expect the best things in life take steps to promote their
health, Kim said.
Another possibility is a biological effect, he said. "In a
similar way that depression can impact functioning, we think
optimism can as well," he said.
A different study by Finnish researchers found a link between
low pessimism and reduced risk of stroke, but not between optimism
and stroke. Kim hopes to continue his research, including a focus
on what drives the link between optimism and reduced risk of
The study was partially funded by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio through the Positive Psychology
Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Martin Seligman, who directs the center and is a long-time
optimism researcher, calls the new finding ''a major new
Optimism has previously been linked to protection against heart
attacks, he said.
"Since optimism is teachable, this implies that a trial that teaches optimism to pessimists at risk for stroke might be of real benefit to public health," he said.
Another expert, Hermann Nabi, of the French National Institute
of Health & Medical Research, has studied pessimism and stroke
He called the results interesting but also noted some
limitations, such as the self-reported stroke history and the
limited follow-up. Even so, he terms the new findings "an important
contribution to this line of research."
Optimism can definitely be learned, Kim noted.
How to define optimism? "Optimism isn't just the lack of anxiety
or depression," Kim said. Someone who seeks help for either anxiety
or depression might be lifted from a negative 10 or so on a scale
back to zero, or neutral, he said.
"Optimism can bring you back to positive numbers," he said.
To take a test on how optimistic you are, visit