Heart patients with a positive outlook regarding their recovery were 30% less likely to die over the next 15 years than patients with less optimistic expectations, regardless of the severity of their symptoms. This new finding was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2011; doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.41). Researchers from Duke University Medical Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, gave 2,818 heart disease patients a coronary angiography to evaluate blood flow in the heart. Patients were then tracked for approximately 15 years to determine whether outlook had an effect on physical health and survival. After 15 years, 1,637 people had died, and 54% of the deaths were due to cardiovascular disease. The higher risk of death for those with more negative outlooks remained after controlling for age, gender, income and other factors.
“This study is unique because it shows that a patient’s attitude toward their disease not only impacts their ability to return to a normal lifestyle but also their health over the long term and ultimately their survival,” said John C. Barefoot, PhD, lead study author and professor emeritus in the department of psychiatry at Duke. “These findings demonstrate the magnitude of the impact of patient expectations on the recovery process above and beyond depression and other psychological or social factors.”
One possible explanation is that optimists may use coping strategies more effectively. Alternatively, the tension and stress that pessimists experience from negative thinking may shorten their lives. Barefoot adds, “The take-home message is that having positive expectations can not only make you feel better but also potentially [cause you to] live longer.”