Optimism May Ward Off Strokes

A positive outlook on life might lower your risk of having a stroke, a new study suggests.

Researchers asked a nationally representative group of 6,044 adults over the age of 50 to rate their optimism levels on a 16-point scale.

They found that each one-point increase in optimism corresponded to a 9-percent decrease in risk of having an acute stroke over the next two years.

"Our work suggests that people who expect the best things in life actively take steps to promote health," said study researcher Eric Kim, a clinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Michigan.

Previous research has shown that optimism is associated with better heart health and enhanced immune system functioning, the researchers said.

This study is the first to discover a correlation between optimism and stroke, they said. Previous research has shown that low pessimism and temporary positive emotions are linked to lower stroke risk.

The researchers analyzed self-reported stroke and psychological data from the ongoing Health and Retirement Study, collected between 2006 and 2008. None of the participants had had a stroke prior to the study's start.

The link held even after researchers adjusted for other factors that might affect stroke risk, including chronic illness, self-reported health and behavioral, biological and psychological conditions.

The protective effect may primarily be due to the lifestyle choices optimists tend to make, such as taking vitamins, eating a healthy diet and exercising, researchers said.

However, some evidence suggests positive thinking might have a strictly biological impact as well, they said.

Stroke is the No. 3 killer in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, and a leading cause of disability.

The study is published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. Pass it on: Keeping an optimistic point of view may lead you to make healthy choices, and therefore lower your risk of having a stroke.

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Live Science Staff
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