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The Benefits Of Optimism For Maintaining Good Health

An athletic lifestyle offers many health benefits. This is hardly news. Exercise, attention to good eating and getting adequate rest makes everything better: lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, higher heart rate turbulence and better survival in the event of heart attack and Cancer, just to name a few. The list of positives approaches infinity. We athletes do a lot that is healthy.

But tonight, I want to muse about yet another benefit of being a competitive athlete—you know, the kind of person that signs up for a challenge and then sees it through. No, it’s not just about bike racing, it could be anything that involves pinning a number and seeing results published on the word wide web.

What extra benefit?

It’s our mindsets. We masters-aged competitors are optimists. We embody positive perceptions and expectations. How else could we keep training, trying, testing and tolerating amateur outputs? When asked, “Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad,” competitive athletes answer ‘A:’ I agree a lot. Athletes don’t awaken before sunrise to train because we expect to race poorly. Rather, we envision enjoying beautiful race-day sensations. And when we don’t feel these, we expect to fare better in the next race. If only I…

It turns out that all this optimism is healthy. And you don’t have to take an amateur blogger’s opinion. Let’s look at some science: (three sentences per study)

Optimism and lower stroke risk:

Check out this University of Michigan study of more than 6000 masters-aged adults. Even after controlling for known cardiac risks (obesity, high blood pressure, etc), anxiety, depression, and hostility, dispositional optimism lowered the risk of stroke. In other words, optimism itself, not just it’s association with happiness, lower anxiety and less hostility lowered the risk of a catastrophic blockage in a brain artery.

Optimism and lower risk of coronary artery disease and mortality:

US researchers followed more than 97,000 women for about 8 years. Measures of optimism and cynical hostility were strongly associated with outcomes: Optimists had a lower incidence of heart disease and total mortality. Conversely, cynical hostility was associated with both higher overall mortality and Cancer-related mortality.

It’s not clear how optimism exerts its effects. Is it an independent variable that has specific biologic effects, or is it just an associated trait of otherwise health-conscious people?

Put me down for pure biology. (Almost always put me down for biology.) We may not understand the exact messengers from brain to artery yet, but my guess is that it involves inflammation. Studies like these are why I think this way:

Pessimism and increased markers of inflammation:

University of Michigan researchers studied the associations between optimism/pessimism and concentrations of inflammatory markers in 6800 middle-aged people without heart disease. Not surprisingly, they found that pessimism related to higher levels of inflammation.

So…

It appears our athletic mindsets only add to the other health benefits of chasing peak performance. This, I believe.

Sign-up.

Show-up.

Pin the number.

Check the results on the internet.

Believe the future holds better results.

Enjoy smoother blood vessels and less sticky blood.

And don’t forget to top it all off with…

A Grin. ☺

P.S. Here is the link to the test used to measure optimism: LOT-R–Life Orientation Test- Revised.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*


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