University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Study links optimism and heart health

By Leslie Orr

Optimism is good for heart health, at least among men, a new study shows. Medical Center researcher Robert Gramling has found that men who believed they were at lower-than-average risk for cardiovascular disease actually experienced one-third lower incidences 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 says, 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 disproportionately low.

“Clearly, holding optimistic perceptions of risk has its advantages for men,” says Gramling, assistant professor of family medicine and community and preventive medicine.

The findings of the 15-year study suggest that if doctors are to explain risks accurately to patients, it’s important for them to first understand how people perceive health risks. The study also points out that as genetic testing and advanced imaging continue 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 notes. “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.”

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