Optimism is linked to a longer lifespan in women from diverse racial and ethnic groups, and to better emotional health in older men, according to two NIA-funded studies. One study showed that the previously established link between optimism and longevity applies to racially and ethnically diverse populations of women and that the link is only partially due to changes in health behaviors. The other study showed that more optimistic men have fewer negative emotions, due in part to reduced exposure to stressful situations. These findings suggest that increasing optimism may be a way to extend lifespan and improve well-being in older adults.
Previous research has established that optimism is associated with healthier aging and longevity. However, most of these studies were in non-Hispanic White populations. In a collaborative study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers from Harvard University; Boston University School of Medicine; Kaiser Permanente; University of California, Davis; University of California, San Diego; and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University explored the link between optimism and longevity in a racially diverse population of women.
Researchers analyzed data from over 150,000 women ages 50–79, collected as a part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI included non-Hispanic White, Black, Hispanic/Latina, and Asian women. Each participant in the study completed a validated optimism test and provided demographic and health information. When scientists analyzed the data, they found that the most optimistic women lived, on average, 5.4% longer (approximately 4.4 years) than the least optimistic women. The most optimistic women were also more likely to achieve exceptional longevity, defined as living over 90 years. These trends were consistent across all racial and ethnic groups.