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Heart Health

Don’t Let “Blue Monday” Get You Down!

This year “Blue Monday” falls on January 26, 2015, which is the Monday of the last full week in January. The observance is reputed to be the most depressing day of the year although scientists contend that the concept is based on a seriously questionable theory involving an equation devised by a travel company in 2005. Then again, the 1980s boasted the chart-busting UK single by New Order called “Blue Monday” and featuring downer lyrics including “I thought I told you to leave me/ While I walked down to the beach/ Tell me how does it feel/ When your heart grows cold”. Maybe the travel company was on to something! After all, January is known to bring on the dreaded Winter Blues.

Even so, research done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that examined associations between optimism and heart health in more than 5,100 adults suggests that we need to make a concerted effort to banish those blues. A release from the university notes that the team found that people who have upbeat outlooks on life have significantly better cardiovascular health. The study was published in the January/February 2015 issue of Health Behavior and Policy Review

The release quotes lead author Rosalba Hernandez, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois, as saying, “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts. This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Participants’ cardiovascular health was assessed using seven metrics: blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use – the same metrics used by the American Heart Association to define heart health and being targeted by the AHA in its Life’s Simple 7 public awareness campaign.

In accordance with AHA’s heart-health criteria, the researchers allocated 0, 1 or 2 points – representing poor, intermediate and ideal scores, respectively – to participants on each of the seven health metrics, which were then summed to arrive at a total cardiovascular health score. Participants’ total health scores ranged from 0 to 14, with a higher total score indicative of better health.

The participants, who ranged in age from 45-84, also completed surveys that assessed their mental health, levels of optimism, and physical health, based upon self-reported extant medical diagnoses of arthritis, liver and kidney disease.

Individuals’ total health scores increased in tandem with their levels of optimism. People who were the most optimistic were 50 and 76 percent more likely to have total health scores in the intermediate or ideal ranges, respectively.