Teens who are more optimistic have a lower risk of heart disease later in life, study finds

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Researchers say mental health and physical health are closely related

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia explored the long-term link between mental health and heart disease. According to their findings, adolescents who are more optimistic and positive are less likely to develop heart disease as adults. 

“Here, we are recognizing the role of the environment and lifestyle in heart disease,” said researcher Anand Chockalingam. “Some prior research has shown that more than 80% of all heart attacks can be prevented with a few simple lifestyle interventions at any point in the individual’s life. 

“Although a heart attack may occur at the age of 55, the underlying build-up of plaque or atherosclerosis starts much earlier, often in teenage years. By exploring healthy habits and connecting with optimistic peers in the impressionable teenage years, it becomes intuitive to sustain a good lifestyle.” 

How mental health affects heart health

The researchers analyzed data from over 20,000 participants enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) study. Participants were first surveyed at 15 years old about their psychological, social, economic, and physical health. The team followed up with the participants every few years with new surveys.

The researchers identified a clear link between psychological wellness in adolescence and heart health in adulthood. Participants who reported feeling more positive overall and generally optimistic when the study began were less likely to struggle with heart health by the end of the study. 

“Adolescents are simultaneously understanding the world as well as their own inner nature and mindset,” Chockalingam said. “Therefore, parents and other caregivers have a substantial role in their lifetime resilience and outlook of children. The biggest legacy that anyone can pass on for subsequent generations in optimism.” 

Finding ways to improve well-being

The researchers hope their findings will help experts come up with strategies to detect and prevent cardiovascular disease. 

“There are several step-by-step techniques established by industrial engineers that help with early detection of problems in the manufacturing and service industries,” said researcher Sharan Srinivas. “This is an opportunity to adapt some of these techniques to enable health care practitioners to monitor the well-being of an adolescent over time, because that’s the formative stage where your outlook on life is established, and it doesn’t change much after that.

“We want to use these techniques to help predict the long-term risk for CVD among adolescents, and uncover the impact that underlying factors can have on a person’s chance to develop CVD, including the influence of a person’s well-being.” 

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