There are lots of different ways to say it.
“Whistling in the dark,” “faking it until you feel it,” and “skipping past the graveyard” are just a few examples. But they all really boil down to just one thing, and that’s the power of positive thinking.
The fact is our minds play a big role in our health, yet most of the time that detail is simply overlooked.
I’ve written before about what I christened the “Oscar the Grouch effect.” A study revealed that a negative outlook could literally send your risk for angina or a heart-attack risk skyrocketing by up to 44 percent.
Well it looks like we need to add reducing your stroke risk to the list of things an optimistic outlook can accomplish for your health, because according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, it could do exactly that.
Positive thinking slashes stroke risk
Researchers looked at a subset of 6,044 stroke-free volunteers from the ongoing Health and Retirement study. The volunteers’ optimism levels were measured on a 16-point scale using a standard tool called the Modified Life Orientation Test.
During the two-year follow-up period there were 88 cases of stroke. After taking into account the volunteers age, gender, chronic-illness status, and self-rated health levels, the researchers found that with every one point increase on the optimism scale there was a corresponding drop of 9 percent in stroke risk over the two-year period.
They even conducted a second analysis to find out if just avoiding being a Gloomy Gus would do the trick. But their data indicated that optimistic thinking offers protection above and beyond what just the absence of negative thinking can offer.
Optimism remains your best bet
Now if you’re anything like me you may be wondering at this point how they can prove that positive thinking caused the drop in stroke risk. The simple answer is that they can’t. Well, not yet at any rate.
This was an observational study, which means the researchers didn’t control all the factors involved. In other words, it isn’t possible to say that positive thinking absolutely caused the drop in risk. But after they adjusted for all the normal outside factors, the relationship was still sitting there staring the researchers in their faces.
And, well, frankly, since other studies have already turned up similar findings, and since positive thinking never hurt anybody—in fact, quite the contrary—I think these are results we can, and should, get behind.
“Dispositional Optimism Protects Older Adults From Stroke: The Health and Retirement Study,” Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, 2011 Jul 21.
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