Is Optimism Associated With Healthier Cardiovascular-Related Behavior? Meta-Analyses of 3 Health Behaviors

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Optimistic people have reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular-related mortality compared with their less optimistic peers. One explanation for this is that optimistic people may be more likely to engage in healthy behavior like exercising frequently, eating fruits and vegetables, and avoiding cigarette smoking. However, researchers have not formally determined the extent or direction of optimism’s association with health behaviors. Moreover, it is unclear whether optimism temporally precedes health behaviors or whether the relationship is because of shared common causes. We conducted random effects meta-analyses examining optimism’s association with 3 health behaviors relevant for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. PubMed and PsycINFO databases were searched for studies published through November 2017 reporting on optimism’s relationship with physical activity, diet, and cigarette smoking. We identified 34 effect sizes for physical activity (n=90 845), 15 effect sizes for diet (n=47 931), and 15 effect sizes for cigarette smoking (n=15 052). Findings suggested that more optimistic individuals tended to engage in healthier behaviors compared with less optimistic individuals, but effect sizes were modest (ractivity=0.07, P<0.0001; rdiet=0.12, P<0.0001; and rsmoking=0.07, P=0.001). Most evidence was cross-sectional (≥53% of effect sizes) and did not consider sociodemographic characteristics (<53% of effect sizes) or psychological distress (<27% of effect sizes) as potential confounders. Optimism is associated with healthier behaviors that protect against cardiovascular disease, although most evidence was relatively low quality. Additional longitudinal and experimental research is required to determine whether optimism causally contributes to healthy behaviors and whether optimism could be an effective target for preventing cardiovascular disease.


This article was originally published in Circulation Research, volume 122, issue 8, in 2018. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.117.310828


American Heart Association