Pessimism May Be Bad for Your Heart

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A pessimistic attitude increases the risk for death from heart disease, a new study reports, while an optimistic view of the world may have no effect at all.

Finnish researchers followed 2,267 men and women 52 to 76 years old. At the start of the study participants were presented six statements and asked to rate, on a 0 to 4 scale, how well the statements applied to them. The text was either positive (for example, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best”) or negative (“If something can go wrong for me, it will”). The researchers also recorded subjects’ cholesterol levels, blood pressure, glucose readings and other health and behavioral characteristics. The study is in BMC Public Health.

During 11 years of follow-up, 122 people died from coronary heart disease. After controlling for smoking, diabetes and other factors, the scientists found that those in the highest one-quarter of scores on pessimism were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those in the lowest one-quarter. But being optimistic had no effect on death rates one way or the other.

“Your personality traits can make physical health worse,” said the lead author, Dr. Mikko Pankalainen, a psychiatrist at the Paijat-Hame Central Hospital in Lahti, Finland. “If you’re pessimistic and have some health issues, then it’s even more important to take care of your physical health.”