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Pessimists more likely to die from heart disease, study finds

Tampere University research found higher mortality in people with pessimistic attitudes, who also tended to eat poorly.

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Pessimists are more likely to contract and die from coronary heart disease than people with an optimistic view of things, finds new research from the University of Tampere in southern Finland.

Medical science licentiate Mikko Pänkäläinen's doctoral dissertation set out to determine whether the personality traits of optimism and pessimism can influence coronary heart disease, and if this effect could be mediated.

His results found a four-fold risk of developing heart disease among the most pessimistic fourth of the study population, compared to the least pessimistic fourth. In contrast, optimism was not found to be statistically connected to the disease's incidence and mortality.

"When you exclude deaths due to other causes, the risk for the most pessimistic individuals to die from coronary heart disease were more than twice that of the least pessimistic in the 11-year follow-up period," Pänkäläinen said.

Pessimists also tended to have a more unhealthy diet in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, and could not or did not try to change their eating habits as often as the others.

"Increased inflammation levels seemed to be an important link between pessimism and the disease," Pänkäläinen explained.

Better preventative care is needed

Earlier research has shown that pessimists can successfully improve their living habits if they are given the right motivation.

"More research is needed on psychosocial interventions for the most pessimistic patients, as well as efforts that could be made on a societal level to help people stay positive in a world that often does its best to discourage this," Pänkäläinen added.

The study was part of the "Ikihyvä Päijät-Häme" research project, in which 3,000 middle-aged men and older women and men from southern Finland were monitored from 2002 to 2012. Mortality statistics on the group were compiled one year after the study ended.

Data on the subjects was collected via in-depth questionnaires, blood tests and health examinations. The participants also completed a revised Life Orientation Test questionnaire, designed to measure optimism and pessimism.

Pänkäläinen says he hopes the results of his study will help target preventative care and identify new ways for treating coronary heart disease. He will defend his dissertation in Tampere on 22 November.