Optimistic Outlook Decreases the Risk of Stroke in Older Individuals

by Dr Sam Girgis on July 23, 2011

Individuals who have an optimistic outlook and attitude tend to be happier, emotional well balanced, and healthier.  Previous research has shown that individuals with optimistic attitudes have lower risk of re-hospitalization after heart bypass surgery, decreased risk of heart attack, and reduced risk of death from heart disease.  Researcher leads by Dr. Christopher Peterson have now found that individuals with an optimistic attitude have decreased risk of developing a stroke.  Their study was published online in the journal Stoke: Journal of the American Heart Association.  The researchers used an observational prospective study using data from the Health and Retirement Study, which is a panel of American adults aged older than 50 years.  There were 6,044 participants (2542 men, 3502 women) who were stroke free at baseline who were followed for a 2 year period.  The researchers adjusted their statistical results to account for chronic illnesses, self rated health, relevant sociodemographic, behavioral, biological, and psychological confounding factors.  The participants were given the modified Life Orientation Test to measure optimism levels which resulted in a 16 point range of scores.  During the 2 year period of follow up, there were 88 cases of cerebrovascular accident, or stroke.  When all the confounding factors such as age, gender, chronic illnesses, and self rated health were taken into consideration, the researchers found that with every point increase in optimism there was a 9% reduction in the risk of developing a stroke.  The authors wrote, “Dispositional optimism was associated with a reduced risk of stroke in a prospective and nationally representative sample of American adults, aged 50 years, who were stroke-free at baseline. This association persisted even after adjusting for potential sociodemographic, behavioral, biological, and psychological factors. On an optimism measure ranging from 3 to 18, each unit increase in optimism was associated with a 9% reduced risk of stroke over a 2-year follow-up even after controlling for potential risk factors. The current findings further suggest that the effect of optimism on stroke is not attributable to other known psychological risk factors for cardiovascular illness such as anxiety, hostility, depression, neuroticism, pessimism, and a low positive affect”.  In addition the authors wrote, “Due to optimism’s unique ability to predict stroke, optimism may serve as a variable that can be added into near-future stroke-risk algorithms that are specifically tailored for older adults. Optimism may protect against stroke through different pathways, including health behaviors. People who have high optimism may engage in a healthy lifestyle that minimizes health risks and increases health and well-being. Perhaps, when people have a positive outlook on life, they undertake actions more likely to produce good outcomes”.  Future studies will focus on how optimism influences the risk of stroke and whether optimism interventions can supplement current stroke prevention protocols.


Eric S. Kim et al. “Dispositional Optimism Protects Older Adults From Stroke: The Health and Retirement StudySTROKEAHA.111.613448 Published online before print July 21, 2011, doi: 10.1161/​STROKEAHA.111.613448

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