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Health & Balance

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Optimism May Curb Heart Deaths

Optimistic Men Less Likely to Die of Heart Problems, Study Shows

Optimism the Reason?

The study doesn't prove that optimism alone saved participants' hearts. Optimistic people might tend to take better care of themselves or cope better with problems, the researchers note.

Giltay's team took that into consideration. They asked the men about many factors that could affect health, including smoking, physical activity, diabetes, high blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), alcohol use, marriage, and education.

However, observational studies like this one don't directly test their topic. None of the men were told to change their outlooks. Optimism scores also faded a bit with age but were generally stable, the study shows.

Learning Optimism

Could becoming more optimistic help your heart's health?

"It is yet unknown whether one could decrease one's cardiovascular risk by enhancing optimism," Giltay tells WebMD.

"Various forms of psychotherapy would be suitable for the task, but would seem hard to induce (even small) improvements in patients' personality traits," Giltay continues. "These are known to be stable over many years (as we have found in the present study) and life events."

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, who didn't work on Giltay's study, shared his views with WebMD via email.

Seligman writes that Giltay's study "is coherent with a large literature that points to pessimism and depression as major risk factors for cardiac death."

Seligman, whose books include Learned Optimism, also says that "there is a substantial literature ... on how to stably change pessimism to optimism."

Seligman is a past president of the American Psychological Association. He is a specialist in the field of positive psychology, which includes the study of positive emotion and positive character traits.

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