14 July 2008 – The University of Rochester Medical Center just issued the following
announcement about a study in the new issue of *Annals of Family Medicine*:

Positive thinking is prescription for the heart

Optimism is good for heart health, at least among men, a new study shows.

University of Rochester Medical Center researcher Robert Gramling, M.D.,
D.Sc., found that men who believed they were at lower-than-average risk
for cardiovascular disease actually experienced a three times lower
incidence of death from heart attacks and strokes.

The data did not support the same conclusion among women. One possible
explanation for the gender difference, researchers said, is that the
study began in 1990, a time when heart disease was believed to be
primarily a threat to men. Therefore, women’s judgments about how often
heart attacks occur among average women might have been
disproportionately low.

The study is published in the July-August issue of Annals of Family Medicine.

The 15-year surveillance study involved 2,816 adults in New England
between the ages of 35 and 75 who had no history of heart disease.
Researchers collected baseline data from 1990-1992; outcomes were
obtained from the National Death Index records through December 2005.

Researchers were interested in measuring whether optimistic perceptions
of risk might protect people from the fear-related coping behaviors
(overeating comfort foods, too much alcohol, or avoiding the doctor) or
the stress that can be associated with heart disease.

They asked people at the outset, “Compared with persons of your own age
and sex, how would you rate your risk of having a heart attack or stroke
in the next 5 years?”

Men’s views were more discordant. Almost half of the men who self-rated
their risk to be “low” would have been classified by objective medical
tests as having “high” or “very high” risk. Most women who rated their
risk to be “low” were far more accurate than the men.

“Clearly, holding optimistic perceptions of risk has its advantages for
men,” said Gramling, an assistant professor of Family Medicine and
Community and Preventive Medicine.

If doctors are to accurately explain risks to patients, it’s important
for them to first understand how people perceive health risks. The study
also pointed out that as genetic testing and advanced imaging continues
to offer individuals more information about their future health, good
communication is essential.

“It is not clear whether we should seek to disabuse people of optimistic
‘misperceptions’ in pursuit of changing behavior.” Gramling said.
“Perhaps we should work on changing behaviors by instilling more
confidence in the capacity to prevent having a heart attack, rather than
raising fears about having one.”

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