Pos­i­tive think­ing may be pow­er­fully healthy

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Lookon the bright side—it could be a life­saver. That’s the pos­si­ble take­away from new re­search pub­lished this month in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Epi­demi­ol­ogy, which found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween a pos­i­tive out­look and bet­ter health in women. But the causal­ity is still up for de­bate.

Re­search data came from 70,021 women who were part of a long-term Nurses’ Health Study; the study ex­am­ined their level of op­ti­mism via a 2004 ques­tion­naire. The aver­age age of those sur­veyed was about 70, with re­searchers tracking deaths from 2006 to 2012. Of those sur­veyed, the most op­ti­mistic women were 29% less likely to die dur­ing the six-year study fol­low-up, with re­spec­tive re­duced risks for can­cer, heart dis­ease, stroke, res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease and in­fec­tion.

The study’s data are sig­nif­i­cant be­cause of the re­search pool size and at­ten­tion paid to vari­ables, ac­cord­ing to Nancy Sin, a health psy­chol­o­gist at Penn State Univer­sity. Other stud­ies have shown sim­i­lar re­sults cor­re­lat­ing op­ti­mism and health—and specif­i­cally with car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, she told NPR.

Sev­eral fac­tors can make this cor­re­la­tion plau­si­ble, said Eric Kim, an au­thor of the study and a re­search fel­low at the Har­vard T.H. Chan School of Pub­lic Health. Op­ti­mistic peo­ple are more likely to ex­hibit healthy be­hav­iors re­gard­ing diet, ex­er­cise and to­bacco use. And they might also have bet­ter cop­ing mech­a­nisms, Kim said.

“When they face life chal­lenges, they cre­ate con­tin­gency plans, plan for fu­ture chal­lenges and ac­cept what can’t be changed,” he said.

Op­ti­mism might have a di­rect im­pact on bi­o­log­i­cal func­tion, Kim added, with ex­am­ples of bet­ter im­mune func­tion and lower lev­els of in­flam­ma­tion.

Op­ti­mism could have health ben­e­fits for older women, the study sug­gests.

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