Under the Hood

Optimism Could Improve Overall Heart Health, Study Finds

In a new review paper, experts reinforced a positive mind was an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to a healthier body. High levels of optimism, they stated, better improved heart health-related outcomes.

The findings of the review were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on Sept. 10.

"We addressed how social environment, psychological well-being and the effectiveness of intervention strategies can help strengthen a patient's outlook," said lead author Darwin R. Labarthe, a professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "We focused on whether psychological well-being can be consistently related with a reduced risk of heart disease."

Optimism is regarded as one facet of psychological well-being. Over the years, research has suggested a positive relationship between optimism and heart disease. For instance, a Harvard study from 2016 found optimism could have a protective effect on older women, reducing the risk of death from causes such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection.

Looking into a large body of research, the authors found the most optimistic patients were less likely to be current smokers 12 months later and were more likely to engage in regular physical activity. In terms of dietary patterns, the most optimistic patients tended to eat more of fruits and vegetables, and less of processed meats and sweets. As a result, these patients were also likely to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).

Labarthe noted optimists are inclined to problem-solving and creating strategies when dealing with stress, which are traits that help them persevere in more ways than one.

"If others are faced with factors out of their control, they begin to shift their goals and use potentially maladaptive coping strategies, which would ultimately result in raising inflammation levels and less favorable overall heart health," he said.

The use of psychology as a form of healing has been garnering attention from a growing number of experts. The placebo effect is one of the most-cited examples on this, suggesting a person's expectations can influence the effectiveness of treatment sometimes.

Earlier this year, the influence of our mindset on health was also explored in a presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“You can be the same physical being from one day to the next, but your mindset can have a dramatic effect on performance and physiological capabilities,” said Alia Crum from Stanford University, California.

The new review on heart health strengthens current evidence concerning this subject, as the authors also recommend mindfulness-based interventions for patients. These programs, which may include yoga and tai chi, have helped reduce blood pressure and improve outcomes in heart failure patients.