"People who are optimistic are more likely to listen to other people's advice and plan for the future and think they can change the outcome," says Dr. Joseph Broderick, professor and chairman in the department of neurology at the University of Cincinnati, but this doesn't mean that all optimistic people will have a lower risk of stroke. Broderick cautions that saying point blank that optimism reduces stroke risk is a "huge generalization" that hides a lot of the other factors that play into who does and who doesn't suffer from stroke or other health problems.
"Some people think that ornery, cranky people survive things in spite of it all because of a will to endure on, but these people are certainly not optimistic. Optimism can also work against making healthier decisions -- you can be optimistic and feel like everything will work out, and so you don't change your behavior for the better," he says.
Dr. Wendy Wright, medical director of the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, agreed that morestudy is needed to parse out what's going on in the optimism-stroke relationship.
"It would be valuable to know ... if the results will be different if people try to 'manipulate' their levels of optimism to improve stroke risk," she says, especially considering that optimism is a medicine with no negative side effects: "Encourage optimism for its health benefits. It has no downside. Optimism is free!"