Optimism and cardio vascular health

If you’re smart, you’ll ignore this blog post and read this article from Scientific American Blogs by Scott Barry Kaufman immediately.

Here’s the most relevant quote from the article:

“Since that 2012 review, two additional studies have come out that further point to the robustness of this association. Rosalba Hernandez and colleagues focused on the American Heart Association’s definition of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which involves consideration of 7 metrics grouped into two categories: health behaviors (diet, smoking, physical activity, BMI) and health factors (blood pressure, blood sugar, total cholestrol). This was the first study to consider the association between optimism and CVH as defined by the American Heart Association, and this was also the first study to utilize a large sample of ethnically/racially diverse sample of adults.

Using data collected from 5,134 adults aged 52-84 over an 11 year period, they found a significant association between optimism and cardiovascular health (CVH), with the most optimistic people showing twice the odds of having ideal CVH profiles. The association remained significant even after controlling for socio-demographic variables (i.e., age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, income, and insurance status) and measures of psychological ill-being (e.g., depression), again supporting the notion that a lack of ill-being doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of thriving.”

OK, so you’ve insisted on hanging around. I’ll tell you why I find it so relevant.

An old friend of mine is becoming ever more prone to pessimism. He’s always had an inclination toward mild fatalism though he’s married, has a family and fine career.

Still, he experiences the word no more strongly than any other:

No, I can’t do anything I might enjoy.

No, I can’t get any meaningful exercise.

No, I can lose any of the weight I’ve packed on over the last year or so.

To put the cherry on the sundae of this guy’s life let me tell you that he had an emergency angioplasty a couple years back. The artery that was blocked is nicknamed The Widowmaker by cardiologists.

You would think (and I thought) that this and the other normal stuff of life in the 50s would wake my old friend up to the need to take better care of himself. But it hasn’t…yet. I am ever the optimist.

Another quote from the article is this:

“When individuals are confronted with challenge, they may succumb or they may respond in one of three ways: They may survive (continuing to function, but in an impaired fashion), recover (return to previous levels of emotional, social and psychological functioning), or thrive (to go beyond the prior baseline, to grow and flourish). Through the interactive process of confronting and coping with challenges, a transformation occurs.”

I readily admit that for many years I trended toward an acceptance of mere recovery as opposed to a quest to thrive. I have since learned the error of my ways. Some days, perhaps more days than I would care to admit, I have to beat back the temptation to accept simple survival and recovery as good enough. But they’re not.

Pushing my old friend back from the brink and on toward his better self can be an emotional challenge. And, it would be nice to have someone encourage me as I have encouraged him. I will always believe that he’s one clever bit of encouragement away from changing the way he treats himself. Someday he’ll thrive.

Optimism and cardio vascular health

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