Studies suggest that a person's optimism can predict their well-being and physical health, according to background information in the article. Being optimistic has been associated with better health outcomes in patients with ischemic heart disease (caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries), and with a lower risk for all-cause death and cardiovascular disease and death. The study authors focused on dispositional optimism, defined as having generally positive life engagement and expectancies for one's future.
Erik J. Giltay, Ph.D., M.D., of GGZ Delfland, Institute of Mental Health, Deft, the Netherlands, and colleagues studied elderly men living in the Netherlands to determine optimism's effect on cardiovascular death. The study included 545 men aged 64 to 84 years who did not have pre-existing cardiovascular disease or cancer. Optimism was assessed in 1985, 1990, 1995 and 2000 in a questionnaire given to study participants, who were asked to rate their agreement with the following items: "I still expect much from life," "I do not look forward to what lies ahead for me in the years to come," "My days seem to be passing by slowly" and "I am still full of plans." The men were given scores and divided into groups based on their levels of optimism.
The researchers found optimism to be associated with an approximately 50 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death in the men over 15 years of follow-up. Higher optimism scores were associated with younger age, higher education, less often living alone, better health, a higher physical activity score and a lower depression score in 1990. On a scale from zero to three, with three being the most optimistic, the average scores decreased from 1.50 in 1985 to 1.27 in 2000. Current and past study results indicate that an individual's optimism changes only moderately over time, though it does tend to decrease with age. "Optimism can be estimated easily and is stable over long periods," the authors write. "It is yet to be established whether interventions aimed at improving an older individual's level of optimism may reduce the risk of cardiovascular mortality."
(Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166: 431 – 436. Available pre-embargo at www.jamamedia.org.)
Editor's Note: The Zutphen Elderly Study was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, The Hague.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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