Participants’ cardiovascular health was assessed using seven metrics: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use. These are the same measures used by the American Heart Association to assess cardiovascular health.
Researchers allocated 0, 1 or 2 points—for poor, intermediate and ideal scores—to participants on each of the health metrics, which were then summed to arrive at a total score.
Participants’ total health scores ranged from 0 to 14, with a higher total score indicative of better health.
The participants, who ranged in age from 45 to 84, also completed surveys that assessed their mental health, levels of optimism, and physical health based on self-reported extant medical diagnoses of arthritis, liver disease and kidney disease. The sample was 38% white, 28% African-American, 22% Hispanic/Latino and 12% Asian.
Individuals’ total health scores increased in tandem with their levels of optimism. People who were the most optimistic were 50% and 76% more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively.
Other findings were:
- The association between optimism and cardiovascular health was even stronger when socio-demographic characteristics—age, race and ethnicity, income and education status—were factored in.
- People who were the most optimistic were twice as likely to have ideal cardiovascular health, and 55% more likely to have a total health score in the intermediate range.
- Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts, were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke.