Prescription For Heart Health: Positive Thinking
- Prescription For Heart Health: Positive Thinking
Optimism is good for heart health, at least
among men, a new study shows.
University of Rochester Medical Center researcher
Robert Gramling, M.D., D.Sc., found that men who
believed they were at lower-than-average risk for
cardiovascular disease actually experienced a
three times lower incidence of death from heart
attacks and strokes.
The data did not support the same conclusion among
women. One possible explanation for the gender
difference, researchers said, is that the study
began in 1990, a time when heart disease was
believed to be primarily a threat to men. Therefore,
women's judgments about how often heart attacks
occur among average women might have been
The study is published in the July-August issue
of Annals of Family Medicine.
The 15-year surveillance study involved 2,816 adults
in New England between the ages of 35 and 75 who had
no history of heart disease. Researchers collected
baseline data from 1990-1992; outcomes were obtained
from the National Death Index records through
Researchers were interested in measuring whether
optimistic perceptions of risk might protect people
from the fear-related coping behaviors (overeating
comfort foods, too much alcohol, or avoiding the
doctor) or the stress that can be associated with
They asked people at the outset, "Compared with
persons of your own age and sex, how would you rate
your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in
the next 5 years?"
Men's views were more discordant. Almost half of
the men who self-rated their risk to be "low"
would have been classified by objective medical
tests as having "high" or "very high" risk. Most
women who rated their risk to be "low" were far
more accurate than the men.
"Clearly, holding optimistic perceptions of risk
has its advantages for men," said Gramling, an
assistant professor of Family Medicine and Community
and Preventive Medicine.
If doctors are to accurately explain risks to
patients, it's important for them to first understand
how people perceive health risks. The study also
pointed out that as genetic testing and advanced
imaging continues to offer individuals more information
about their future health, good communication is essential.
"It is not clear whether we should seek to disabuse
people of optimistic 'misperceptions' in pursuit
of changing behavior." Gramling said. "Perhaps we
should work on changing behaviors by instilling more
confidence in the capacity to prevent having a heart
attack, rather than raising fears about having one."
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original
The National Human Genome Research Institute (ELSI branch)
of the National Institutes of Health funded the study,
which was conducted when Gramling was a faculty member
at Brown University's Center for Primary Care and
Prevention, Memorial Hospital in Rhode Island. He
recently joined the Rochester Center to Improve
Communication in Health Care, at the University of
Rochester Medical Center. He is working on similar
research funded by the National Institute of Nursing
Research of the NIH.