The Monty Python song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, takes on new meaning with the release of a new study from the American Heart Association, which finds that having an optimistic outlook just might save your life by reducing your risk of stroke.
The study is the first to discover a correlation between optimism and stroke.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, a stroke – also called a brain attack – happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted due to a blood vessel in the brain being blocked or bursting open.
If blood flow is stopped for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get blood and oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing permanent damage.
Researchers studied 6,044 people over 50 years old and had them rate their optimism levels on a 16-point scale.
In order to establish the link between optimism and stroke, the team employed a special analysis technique which was adjusted for various factors that might affect stroke risk.
These factors included chronic illness, smoking, alcohol use, race, gender, marital status, blood pressure, body mass index and level of physical activity, as well as psychological conditions.
Over a two-year follow-up period, and after adjusting for age of the study participants, they found that each point increase in optimism corresponded to a 9 percent decrease in acute stroke risk.
In reviewing the research data, study authors found that people who looked at life optimistically tended to pay more attention to their health and took the necessary steps to promote better health such as taking vitamins, eating a healthy diet and exercising.
The study team also found some evidence suggesting positive thinking alone might have a biological impact as well.
Similar past studies show that people with sunnier dispositions experience health benefits such as having a healthier immune system, experiencing faster wound healing and having a lower risk of heart disease.