- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

Say hello, get socializing and be happy. Medical researchers have established a direct link between a buoyant, outgoing personality and better health.

A study released Wednesday by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that extroverts — particularly those who are happily engaged in their everyday lives — have dramatically lower blood levels of an inflammatory chemical linked to clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes.

“The ‘life force’ is linked to [a] body’s ability to withstand stress,” the study said, suggesting that extroverts have a “survival advantage” over their less engaged peers.

“Our study took the important first step of finding a strong association between one part of extroversion and a specific, stress-related, inflammatory chemical,” said Benjamin Chapman, lead author of the study and an assistant professor within the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research, part of the university’s psychiatry department.

He’s talking simple, happy stuff, essentially. The potentially damaging levels of the inflammatory chemical interleukin-6 can retreat in a person who has ” ‘dispositional energy,’ or a sense of innate vigor or active engagement with life,” the study said.

It followed 103 adults older than 40, gauging their personalities with a standard psychological test and measuring levels of interleukin-6 in their blood. Those who were heartily involved in life had measurably lower amounts of the inflammatory chemical. The study revealed that this tendency was particularly pronounced in older women.

“If this aspect of personality drives inflammation, dispositional energy and engagement with life may confer a survival advantage,” Mr. Chapman said.

The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers speculated that the findings could have some impact on preventive medicine.

“Beyond physical activity, some people seem to have this innate energy separate from exercise that makes them intrinsically involved in life,” Mr. Chapman said.

“It will be fascinating to investigate how we can increase this disposition toward engagement. Potentially, you might apply techniques developed to treat depression like ‘pleasurable event scheduling’ to patients with low dispositional energy, where you get people more involved in life by filling their time with things they enjoy as a therapy.”

Other researchers have plumbed the link between positive personalities and better health.

A University of Pittsburgh study released in March found that optimistic women were 23 percent less likely to die from heart disease - and 14 percent less likely to die from any cause - than their pessimistic peers. They also were less likely to smoke or have high blood pressure and diabetes.

The study reviewed the lifestyles and attitudes of 100,000 women older than 50.

The study also found that “cynically hostile” women who mistrusted others were 16 percent more likely to die than more trusting women, and 23 percent more likely to die from cancer.

“Optimistic people seem to seek medical advice and follow it. They have good social networks and strong social relationships,” the study said.

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