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Heart Disease Health Center

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Pessimism, Cynicism Can Hurt Your Heart

Study: Negative Outlook Appears to Raise Risk of Heart Disease, Death

Can a Pessimist Become an Optimist?

Compared to pessimists, optimists were more likely to be younger, live in the western U.S., have higher education and income levels, have a job, have health insurance, and attend church.

Pessimists were more likely than optimists to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and suffer from depression. They were also more likely to be overweight, smoke, and avoid exercise.

But these factors did not fully explain the difference in heart disease and death risk between the two groups, Tindle says.

The study will appear in the Aug. 25 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Psychologist and American Heart Association spokesman Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD, tells WebMD that the study adds to a growing body of research linking an optimistic attitude with better health.

“There is a lot of conjecture about why this is, but we don’t really know why optimism seems to be so beneficial for health,” he says.

Like Tindle and colleagues, many other researchers have found that negative thinkers make poorer lifestyle choices than positive thinkers. They also tend to suffer more from depression.

“Someone who believes that life is not worth living probably isn’t the type of person who goes to the gym three times a week,” Jacobs says.

But can someone who is pessimistic by nature change their tune to improve their health?

Psychiatrist Redford Williams, MD, who directs Duke University Medical Center’s Behavioral Medicine Research Center, believes they can.

Williams has devoted his career to teaching people how to overcome anger and hostility, and he is the author of the book Anger Kills: 17 Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health.

In an interview with WebMD, Williams cited a 2005 Duke study showing that heart patients who attended a two-week, 12-hour workshop designed to teach such coping skills had less depression and better blood pressure control than heart patients who got a one-hour lecture on stress.

“People can learn these skills, and more and more research is showing that it can not only improve your life but save it,” he says.

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