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Optimism lowers stroke risk

July 2011

Optimism lowers stroke risk

The more optimistic you are, the lower your risk of having a stroke. Optimism protects against stroke. While it is not a cause-and-effect link, there is a significant association.

Optimism isn't just the lack of anxiety or depression. Someone who seeks help for either anxiety or depression might be lifted from a negative 10 or so on a scale back to zero, or neutral. Optimism can bring you back to positive numbers. The possible stroke protection lengthens the list of health benefits tied to being optimistic. Previous studies have found more optimistic people have a healthier immune system, faster wound healing, a lower risk of heart disease and other benefits.

Researchers looked at data from the Health and Retirement Study, which was a nationally representative sample of American adults over the age of 50 years. The team looked at the results of standard optimism tests for 6,044 men and women. All were free of stroke at the study's start. The optimism score was on a 16-point scale. The participants self-rated their health, and the team followed them for two years. During the follow-up period, 88 cases of stroke occurred. After adjusting for age that each unit increase in their optimism score reduced stroke risk by about 9 percent.

The researchers also adjusted for other factors such as smoking, alcohol use, race, gender, marital status, blood pressure, chronic illness, mental illness, body mass index and level of physical activity. They found the association between optimism and reduced risk of stroke remained robust.

One possibility is that those who expect the best things in life take steps to promote their health. Another possibility is a biological effect. In a similar way that depression can impact functioning and optimism can as well, the researchers hypothesised. A different study by Finnish researchers found a link between low pessimism and reduced risk of stroke, but not between optimism and stroke.

However, further research is needed including a focus on what drives the link between optimism and reduced risk of stroke.

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