Optimism is good for a healthy heart, according to a new study.

University of Illinois researchers examined 5,100 adults between 45 and 84 years old. Participants in the study were asked to complete questionnaires, assessing their mental health, including feelings of optimism versus pessimism.

Healthy levels were measured according to seven guidelines adopted by the American Heart Association. These included body mass index, blood pressure, diet, physical activity, tobacco use, cholesterol levels, and fasting plasma glucose.

Participants were awarded a grade between zero and two in each category, and the numbers were added together to produce a total health score, between zero and 14. Higher scores represented better health conditions and choices.

Optimistic people were between 50 and 76 percent more likely to have health scores in the intermediate to ideal ranges, when compared to others in the study. Every point in the score represented an eight percent difference in the risk for stroke.

"Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts. This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health," Rosalba Hernandez of the University of Illinois said.

Pessimistic people were found to be at higher risk from stroke and heart attacks than those with more optimistic attitudes. This effect was noted to be present in subjects regardless of socio-demographic status or mental health.

Optimists were found to participate in physical activity more often than pessimists, exhibited a healthier body mass index and were less likely to smoke.

"At the population level, even this moderate difference in cardiovascular health translates into a significant reduction in death rates," Hernandez said.

The study group for this racially inclusive study was 38 percent Caucasian, 28 percent African American, 22 percent Latin American, and 12 percent Chinese. The study started in July 2000, following participants for 11 years. Data was collected from subjects once every 18 to 24 months.

"We now have available data to examine optimism at baseline and cardiovascular health a decade later," Hernandez stated.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, accounting for 596,577 fatalities across the nation in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That is roughly one out of every four deaths in the U.S. each year. Slightly more than half the victims were males.

Optimism and its role in preventing heart disease was detailed in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review.

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