Scientists also tested the hypothesis that optimistic women live longer because they have healthier lifestyles. Previous studies showed that optimistic people are likelier to engage in behaviors that promote health and longer lifespan. Given this, the authors used statistical methods to determine whether lifestyle factors could explain the link between optimism and lifespan. Specifically, the study collected information on exercise, diet, body mass index, smoking history, and alcohol consumption. The researchers found that these factors only accounted for 25% of the link between optimism and longevity. These results suggest that the link between optimism and lifespan may be partly due to healthier behaviors, but that other pathways and factors are also likely to be involved.
Another NIA-funded study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, explored the idea that reductions in stressful experiences could be one of the factors that explain the link between optimism and better health. Prior studies from other research groups established that stress exposure is linked to worse health and a shorter lifespan. In this study, a group of scientists from the VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Rush Medical College, and Northwestern University analyzed the relationship between optimism, stress, and emotional well-being in older men.
Researchers found that more optimistic men experienced fewer negative emotions. More than 50% of this link could be explained by reduced exposure to daily stressors. These results suggest that optimism may cause older adults to avoid, direct their attention away from, or change how they think about stressful situations. The authors note that their study is limited in that participants were all male, primarily White, and had a higher socioeconomic status than the general population. To determine whether the results apply to everyone, the study should be repeated in more diverse populations.
Results from these two studies provide important insights into how optimism may improve health and longevity. Findings from the first study show that optimism is linked to a longer lifespan across racial and ethnic groups. Although differences in healthy behaviors can explain a modest portion of this link, that is only part of the story. The second study suggests that optimism may benefit health and well-being because it is linked to reduced exposure to stress. Because optimism is a modifiable characteristic that can be changed with interventions like writing exercises and therapy, improving optimism may be an effective strategy to improve health and extend lifespan across racial and ethnic groups.
One response to “Optimism linked to longevity and well-being in two recent studies ”
Interesting read. One thing that applies to my father at age 95 and a half is that he still finds real purpose to live. Lives in his apartment with minimal support, drives to the grocery store to do his own shopping.
The concept of having purpose was not mentioned in the research, though I think it was implied in the term “optimism”.