Attitude is everything, at least for people with heart disease, a new study suggests.
The research, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, shows that having a positive attitude is tied to a longer life and greater likelihood of exercising among coronary artery disease patients.
"We should focus not only on increasing positive attitude in cardiac rehabilitation, but also make sure that patients perform exercise on a regular basis, as exercise is associated with both increased levels of optimism and better health," study researcher Susanne S. Pedersen, Ph.D., professor of cardiac psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said in a statement. Pederson is also an adjunct professor of cardiac psychology at the University of Southern Denmark and Odense University Hospital in Denmark.
The study included 600 people with coronary artery disease who were being treated at a hospital in Denmark. Researchers followed up with them over five years to find an association between positive mood and likelihood of exercising, as well as positive mood and risk of dying over that five-year period.
Specifically, people with positive attitudes who exercised had a 42 percent decreased chance of dying over the study period. Meanwhile, 16.5 percent of those with more negative attitudes died over the study period.
Past studies have also shown a link between having a positive attitude and good health. A study earlier this year in the American Journal of Cardiology shows that having a cheerful disposition could help to lower your risk of experiencing a heart attack. And last year, a study from Duke University Medical Center researchers found that positive thinking about the future was linked with a lower risk of dying from heart disease, the Chicago Tribune reported.
For more health benefits of optimism, click through the slideshow:
...Have Healthier Hearts
Could a positive outlook be the key to a healthier ticker? Maybe so, according to a 2012 scientific review published in the journal <a href="http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/bul/index.aspx" target="_blank">Psychological Bulletin</a>. "Health is more than the absence of disease," co-author Julia Boehm, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/optimism-healthy-heart_n_1431458.html" target="_blank">told HuffPost's Catherine Pearson when the findings were released</a>. "So we looked at the positive side of things -- how optimism and happiness might protect against cardiovascular disease." The review suggests that psychological well-being, including optimism, is linked with a reduction in heart attacks and strokes, as well as other cardiovascular problems, <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/positive-emotions-cardiovascular-health/" target="_blank">according to HSPH News</a>. HuffPost's Pearson reported: <blockquote>The evidence suggests that people who are happy and optimistic are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, like doing physical activity, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. It also shows an association between positivity and measurable biological factors, like lower blood pressure and healthier lipid profiles. But the various studies do not reveal whether happiness or healthy behaviors come first. It could be that happier, more positive people are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, which in turn improves factors like blood pressure. It could also be that engaging in healthy behaviors and having a better biological profile helps boost psychological well-being.</blockquote>
...Have Better Cholesterol
A 2013 study, also from the Harvard School of Public Health, but this time published in <a href="http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(13)00388-3/abstract" target="_blank">The American Journal of Cardiology</a>, found that middle-aged study participants who scored as optimistic on a test have higher levels of "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and lower levels of triglycerides. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/good-cholesterol-middle-aged-optimism_n_2831773.html" target="_blank">Huff/Post 50 reported in March</a>: <blockquote>The study asked 990 male and female participants between the ages of 40 ad 70 years old if they agreed with a number of statements about life, such as: “I expect more good things to happen to me than bad” and "If something can go wrong for me it will." The participants with sunnier dispositions had better levels of good cholesterol, and often kept “a prudent diet and [had] a lower body mass index,” Julia Boehm, the study's lead author, told Huff/Post50 in an e-mail.</blockquote>
...Handle Stress Smoothly
It can seem particularly tricky to think positively when you're stressed out -- but that's <em>exactly</em> when optimism can help the most, according to "positivity" researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Her research shows that people who find meaning in stressful experiences -- <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/03/the-benefits-of-optimism-are-real/273306/">exhibiting a type of "silver lining" thinking</a> -- are also more likely to recover from the psychological pain of a bad event. What's more, according to Fredrickson's research <a href="http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson_AmSci_English_2003.pdf">upbeat thoughts had a positive effect on physical recovery</a> from an immediate stressor: According to one study, study participants who were subjected to public speaking had heart rates that returned to normal in a shorter time span if they watched a positive video beforehand. And in totally unrelated research, psychologists found that being optimistic about one’s own abilities -- and engaging in positive self-talk -- was enough to <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/02/self-affirmation-problem-solving-chronic-stress_n_3194437.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living”>improve problem solving during times of great stress</a>.
...Have Stronger Immunity
As if the glass-half-empty set doesn't have enough to fret about. A study found that keeping a positive outlook has an impact on the strength of your immune system. Researchers tracked first-year law students through the ups and downs of their school year. They found that individual students had different levels of immune response based on how positively they were thinking about things. When a student displayed optimistic thinking, he also showed <a href="http://www.livescience.com/8158-optimism-boosts-immune-system.html">greater cell-mediated immunity</a> -- a phenomenon in which immune cells cluster to respond to a perceived threat, in this case a harmless but provocative injection of a dead mumps virus. On the other hand, a gloomy outlook -- brought on by say, a missed internship or bad test score -- had an actual negative effect on the response of immune cells.
...Have Lower Stroke Risk
In the largest study of the <a href="http://www.webmd.com/stroke/news/20110721/being-optimistic-may-reduce-risk-of-stroke" target="_blank">link between positive thinking and stroke risk</a>, researchers observed 6,044 adults involved in the ongoing Health and Retirement Study who had not previously had a stroke, WebMD reported. Optimism was rated on a 16-point scale, and with every point increase in positivity, people exhibited a <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/HeartDisease/attitude-adjustment-optimism-staves-off-stroke-older-patients/story?id=14125345#.UYliYis4UtQ" target="_blank">9 percent lower likelihood of having a stroke</a>, according to ABC News. Researchers haven't pinpointed whether that association is due to a <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/story/health/story/2011/07/Optimism-may-lower-stroke-risk/49602260/1" target="_blank">biological effect of optimism</a> or merely the fact that people who look on the bright side are likely to take more steps toward total health, USA Today reported.
...Regulate Emotions Better
In his studies of prisoners of war, U.S. Special Forces, earthquake victims and others surrounded by stress, Dr. Dennis Charney found that the people who bounced back more easily from trying and traumatic situations had a number of similar traits. At the top of the list? <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/11/12/qa-with-psychiatrists-on-how-to-bounce-back-after-severe-stress/" target="_blank">Having a positive attitude</a>. Optimistic war veterans were found to have <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/03/the-benefits-of-optimism-are-real/273306/" target="_blank">lower rates of depression and PTSD</a>, The Atlantic reported, because of their ability to say, <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/11/12/qa-with-psychiatrists-on-how-to-bounce-back-after-severe-stress/#ixzz2Sdu1SP2R" target="_blank">"This is a challenge, but I will prevail,"</a> Charney told Time.com. This realistic yet optimistic outlook is likely the key, since <a href="http://news.menshealth.com/failure-helps-career/2011/10/27/" target="_blank">being <em>overly</em> optimistic has been linked to <em>higher</em> rates of depression</a>, Men's Health reported.
With protective effects against so many serious health concerns, it follows that <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/05/29/optimism-laughter-may-bring-long-life" target="_blank">optimism has been linked to a longer life</a> in general. In a 2012 study of 243 centenarians, researchers found that most looked at life through rose-colored glasses. "When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," study author Dr. Nir Barzilai said in a statement. "But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_blank">Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing</a>."