Here’s another reason to help clients see the bright side: optimism has been associated with better health outcomes in patients with ischemic heart disease, and with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease and death. A study in the February 27, 2006 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the most optimistic elderly men had a lower risk of cardiovascular death over 15 years when compared with the least optimistic.

Study authors focused on dispositional optimism, defined as having generally positive life engagement and expectancies for the future. The study included 545 men, 64 to 84 years old, who did not have pre-existing cardiovascular disease or cancer. Researchers assessed optimism in 1985, 1990, 1995 and 2000. Participants were asked to rate their agreement with the following items: “I still expect much from life,” “I do not look forward to what lies ahead for me in the years to come,” “My days seem to be passing by slowly” and “I am still full of plans.” The men were given scores and divided into groups based on their optimism levels.

The researchers found optimism to be associated with an approximately 50% lower risk of cardiovascular death in the men over 15 years of follow-up. Higher optimism scores were associated with younger age, higher education, less time spent living alone, better health, a higher physical activity score and a lower depression score in 1990. Current and past study results indicate that an individual’s optimism changes only moderately over time, though it does tend to decrease with age.