Study: Optimism May Help You Survive a Heart Attack

Positive-minded heart attack patients recovered faster than their gloomier peers in a Mass General study.

While it may be hard to find the silver lining in a heart attack, a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that looking on the bright side may just save your life.

Mass General researchers found that optimistic patients—identified by how they responded to a questionnaire— had far lower readmission rates than those with a less sunny outlook in the two weeks following a heart attack or other acute coronary syndromes. The study, published last week in the journal Circulation, observed levels of gratitude and optimism by surveying 164 Mass General patients in the weeks following heart failure.

Optimistic patients exercised significantly more once they recovered, as measured in steps per day, which often kept them healthier and out of the hospital in the months to come. These patients had an 8 percent lower risk of readmission than their pessimistic peers within the crucial six-month period after the attack.

Lead author Jeff Huffman told Reuters that a life-threatening medical incident can have a huge impact on an individual’s outlook:

“Having an acute coronary syndrome can be kind of a watershed moment: people can thrive after the event and make substantial changes in the way they live their lives – being more active, following a healthier diet, quitting smoking – or they can end up feeling discouraged or demoralized, and not making changes.”

Gratitude, on the other hand, seemed to have no effect on readmissions. Cardiac patients who rated highly on a so-called gratefulness questionnaire had the same rates of coronary inflammation and readmission as everyone else. This result suggests that the perks of a positive outlook may be more related to behavior than mindset.

Overall, this study adds to a growing body of research that suggests a strong correlation between psychological factors and medical recovery. According to its authors, this study is the first attempt to examine multiple positive behavioral constructs instead of simply lumping them together into “happiness” or “positivity.” They also recommend looking into interventions that might help boost optimism among heart attack patients.