Do optimists live longer?
By Coco Ballantyne in 60-Second Science Blog Scientific American

A perennial grump? Always see the glass as half empty instead of half full? Might want to brighten up a bit – if, that is, you’d like to live longer. A new study says that the optimists among us may have a lower risk of heart disease and early death.

Researchers led by Hilary Tindle, an internist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, analyzed eight years of data on 97,253 women, age 50 and over, participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year study launched in 1991 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their findings, released this week at a conference of the American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago: the women who were most cheery were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 14 percent less likely than their pessimistic peers to die from all causes during the study period. The results were even more striking among black women; the optimists among them were 38 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 33 percent less likely to die from all causes.

The researchers caution that their findings only show a link, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between optimism and health outcomes. So what is it about Pollyannas that may make them live longer? It could be that optimistic people tend to be healthier in general; they are more likely to be slim and physically active and less likely to smoke, Tindle says.

“Optimistic people seem to seek medical advice and follow it,” she says, citing research showing that optimists are inclined to stick with diet programs prescribed by their docs. “They [also] have good social networks and strong social relationships,” which could help them cope with chronic stress, a risk factor for heart disease.

So are pessimists doomed to die early? Not necessarily, Tindle says. This is just one study, and more research is needed to get to the bottom of that question.

Positive Thinking May Protect Against Breast Cancer

Feelings of happiness and optimism play a positive role against breast cancer. New research suggests that while staying positive has a protective role, adverse life events such as the loss of a parent or close relative, divorce or the loss of a spouse can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease

Ronit Peled from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, led a team of researchers who questioned 255 women with breast cancer and 367 healthy controls about their life experiences and evaluated their levels of happiness, optimism, anxiety and depression prior to diagnosis. Peled said, “Young women who have been exposed to a number of negative life events should be considered an ‘at-risk’ group for breast cancer and should be treated accordingly”.

The researchers do point out that women were interviewed after their diagnosis, which may colour their recall of their past emotional state somewhat negatively. However, according to Peled, “We can carefully say that experiencing more than one severe and/or mild to moderate life event is a risk factor for breast cancer among young women. On the other hand, a general feeling of happiness and optimism can play a protective role”.

The authors point out that, “The mechanism in which the central nervous, hormonal and immune systems interact and how behaviour and external events modulate these three systems is not fully understood”. As such, they suggest that “The relationship between happiness and health should be examined in future studies and relevant preventative initiatives should be developed”.

Journal reference:

1. Ronit Peled, Devora Carmil, Orly Siboni-Samocha and Ilana Shoham-Vardi. Breast cancer, psychological distress and life events among young women. BMC Cancer, (in press)

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.