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Harvard researchers identified a potential link between optimism levels and risk of hypertension in a study published last month.
Laura D. Kubzansky, a social and behavioral sciences professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and her co-authors conducted a study to determine possible connections between optimism levels and hypertension risk in U.S. Army active-duty soldiers. The study analyzed more than 100,000 responses from the Global Assessment Tool, a survey that allows soldiers to self-assess their levels of optimism.
After controlling for potential variables like baseline blood pressure and previous history with hypertension, the researchers showed that individuals with the highest optimism scores had a 22 percent lower risk of developing hypertension than those who scored the lowest. The study’s findings allow for new potential prevention techniques for those at higher risk for hypertension.
Hayami Koga, a Ph.D. student in population health sciences and a co-author of the study, said her team’s research could lead to more focus on hypertension prevention instead of treatment.
“Risk factors for hypertension, cardiovascular disease aren't necessarily easy to modify,” Koga said. “It's really hard to change people's eating habits, exercise habits, etc., and I think this study suggests there might be other factors we could look into. There's many studies on hypertension, but the studies are mostly focused on treatment and less on prevention.”
Koga said although the results were limited to a population of active-duty soldiers and thus “not transferable to the general public,” the high internal validity of the study could have meaningful implications for future hypertension treatments.
Koga also noted her team’s focus on a more diverse population than in previous studies on optimism.
“Usually these population-based studies in the U.S. are mainly constituted of white populations. The strength of this study was that it was able to look at the association in Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. – a much more diverse population.”
Koga said the study supports the implementation of hypertension interventions at earlier stages of life. The average age of the soldiers in the study was roughly 30 years old.
Koga added that her team hopes to expand on their work by attempting to alter optimism levels in humans in an experimental setting.
“This is observational data,” she said. “It's what we see, we see the association. But I think the next step is, if we actually see – if we intervene on optimism – if that actually leads to better health is the next step to test this theory.”
—Staff writer Ethan Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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