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Pessimism, Cynicism Can Hurt Your Heart

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

optimistic_women_less_heart_disease_1.jpg

Aug. 10, 2009 -- Whether you believe the metaphorical glass is half full or half empty may not only affect how you see the world, it may also affect your heart.

New research suggests that having a positive attitude just might protect against heart disease and keep you alive.

The study of postmenopausal women is one of the largest ever to examine the impact of personality and temperament on the heart.

Just as optimism appeared to protect against heart disease and death, pessimism seemed to increase the risk for both.

And women with the highest degree of hostility and cynicism were also more likely to die than those with the sunniest dispositions.

“We don’t know exactly why, but attitude does appear to matter when it comes to heart disease and health,” University of Pittsburgh Medical Center internist Hilary A. Tindle, MD, MPH tells WebMD.

Pessimism, Hostility Bad for the Heart

The study participants were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year study that included about 162,000 postmenopausal women. None of the women had heart disease when they entered the study.

About 97,000 were included in the analysis by Tindle and colleagues.

The women completed surveys at study entry designed to assess their degree of optimism and their general level of hostility and cynicism.

For the optimism survey, the women were asked to answer "yes" or "no" to questions like, "In unclear times, I usually expect the best,” and “If something can go wrong for me, it will.”

The cynicism/hostility "yes" or "no" survey included questions like, “I have often had to take orders from someone who did not know as much as I did,” and “It is safer to trust nobody.”

Over eight years of follow-up:

  • Women who scored highest for optimism had a 9% lower risk for developing heart disease and a 14% lower risk of dying from all causes than women who scored lowest for optimism.
  • Women with a high degree of hostility and cynicism were 16% more likely to die than women who scored lowest for hostility and cynicism. The heart disease rate was similar for both groups.

Optimistic African-American women had a 33% lower risk for death than African-American women who were pessimists. Among white women, the survival advantage for optimists was 13%. African-American women who scored highest for hostility and cynicism were 62% more likely to die than African-American women who scored lowest.

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.

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