From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Optimists have a lower risk of stroke

Positive thinking may boost immune system

Maintaining a positive outlook on life might cut your risk of having a stroke, a new study suggests.

Scientists at the University of Michigan asked more than 6,044 men and women over the age of 50 to rate how optimistic they felt on a 16 point scale. None had previously suffered a stroke.

They were then tracked for two years. During this time 88 of the people suffered a stroke, some of which were fatal.

Scientists then compared both sets of data and found that every point increase on the optimism scale corresponded to a nine per cent reduction in acute stroke risk over the two years.

The findings were true after adjusting for factors such as chronic illness, other reported health problems and social and lifestyle factors which may affect stroke risk.

"Optimism seems to have a swift impact on stroke," said Eric Kim, a clinical psychology doctoral student who led the study.

"Our work suggests that people who expect the best things in life actively take steps to promote health," he added.

Past research has also shown that an optimistic attitude is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

The researchers said the protective effect of being optimistic may be down to behavioural choices, such as taking vitamins, eating a healthy diet and exercising.

But they also added that there is some evidence which suggests that positive thinking might have a biological effect too, such as boosting the immune system.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death after heart disease and all cancers, and a leading cause of disability. Around 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK, and more 60,000 die as a result.

Dr Sharlin Ahmed, research liaison officer at The Stroke Association said: “There has been a long term belief that positive thinking can improve your recovery after a stroke, so it’s interesting to see that it could also reduce your risk of having a stroke in the first place.

"This study claims that optimistic people we will be more motivated to follow a healthy lifestyle such as exercising regularly which can reduce our risk of stroke.

"There are many cynics amongst us, however it seems that helping people to make the most of life and viewing your glass as half full could go a long way to improving our overall health and wellbeing.”

This article was published on Fri 22 July 2011