Health—whether psychological or physical—is characterized not just by the absence of disease but increasingly by the presence of well-being. These researchers looked at the relationship between psychological well-being (marked by optimism, happiness, and life purpose) and serum antioxidants such as carotenoids and Vitamin E, which are indicators of physical health. They hypothesized that more optimistic people would have greater concentration of antioxidants than less optimistic people. They also looked at whether some health behaviors, such as fruit and vegetable consumption and multivitamin use, play a role in the optimism/antioxidant relationship.
These researchers used data on 982 men and women participants in the Midlife in the United States study. Optimism—expectation that life in the future would be favorable—was assessed using the well-validated Life Orientation test. Levels of nine antioxidants were determined from fasting blood samples. Participants self-reported fruit and vegetable consumption and multivitamin use.
Individuals with greater optimism were more likely to have higher concentrations of carotenoids, (except for Vitamin E) than those less optimistic. Individuals who ate five or more fruits and vegetables a day and took multivitamins had higher carotenoid counts than those who consumed less vegetables and no multivitamin.
“Because optimists tend to persist at their goals, use successful coping strategies, and know when to pursue achievable versus unachievable goals, they may be better able to maintain the healthy behaviors that are associated with improved antioxidant status,” the authors write. “Of course, the reverse may also be true; that is, individuals who engage in healthier behaviors and enjoy better health may also be more optimistic about life. … Enhancing psychosocial assets like optimism could provide effective strategies for promoting health."
This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.