LONDON, England / The Telegraph / Health News / July 22, 2011
Think positively to avoid a stroke
By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent
New research suggests that older people who look on the bright side of life tend to suffer fewer of the brain episodes, which can kill or leave sufferers partially paralysed for life.
Those with a sunnier outlook are more likely to take better care of themselves - but scientists also say that being more positive can have a direct biological effect too.
Previous studies have found a link between optimism and lower risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks, but this is the first to find one with stroke in older people.
Every year about 150,000 people have a stroke in Britain, while it kills some 53,000, making it the third most common cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
Psychologists at Michigan University in the US followed 6,000 people over 50 for two years, none of whom had suffered a stroke before.
Over the two year period, there were 88 strokes, some fatal and some not so. Minor strokes (transient ischaemic attacks) were excluded.
At the start, each completed a short questionnaire about their outlook on life, which asked them how much they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements such as "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best," and "If something can go wrong for me, it will".
Although hard to quantify, the researchers calculated an optimism scale ranging from three to 18 points.
They found the characteristic to be strongly related to avoiding stroke risk: for each increased 'unit' of optimism, the chance of stroke fell by nine per cent.
Eric Kim, the clinical psychology doctoral student who led the study, published on Thursday in the journal Stroke, commented: "Optimism seems to have a swift impact on stroke."
He added: "Our work suggests that people who expect the best things in life actively take steps to promote health."
However, there is some evidence that it might have a direct biological effect as well, perhaps by boosting the immune system.
Dr Sharlin Ahmed, of 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."
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