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.
Higher levels of optimism were associated with longer lifespan and living beyond age 90 in women across racial and ethnic groups in a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups,” said Hayami Koga, a PhD student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences studying in the Population Health Sciences program in partnership with Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study. “A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups.”
In a population of relatively young and healthy U.S. Army active-duty soldiers, we found that those who tested highest for optimism at the start of the study had a 22% lower risk of developing hypertension during three-and-a-half years of follow-up than those who scored the lowest. We know that people in the military are more susceptible to early-onset hypertension because of the stressors associated with their jobs (for example, combat exposure), so it was striking to see that much of a protective effect—and also that the finding held for both women and men, and across racial and ethnic groups, according to a Harvard School of Health study that found a link between optimism and hypertension.
We took into account of a lot of other factors that might have explained away the apparent effects of optimism, including number of deployments, smoking, and levels of depression, but none of them substantially altered our key finding. People who are optimistic don’t tend to be depressed, but our analysis further suggests that optimism confirms protection over and above signaling the absence of a risk factor—it’s a positive health asset.
Having an optimistic outlook on life—a general expectation that good things will happen—may help people live longer, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Based on prospective health data from the Nurses Study in 2004, it found that women who were optimistic had a significantly reduced risk of dying from several major causes of death—including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection—over an eight-year period, compared with women who were less optimistic.
The study appeared online December 7, 2016 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.Continue reading →
Reframe your frustrations. Researchers at the University of Kent in England found that people who strived to see the positive side of things that went wrong – rather than venting to friends about what went wrong, or blaming themselves for small failures – were happier and more satisfied at the end of the day.
Perspective is everything, and you can learn to change a negative outlook.
By Colleen Oakley WebMD Magazine – Feature Reviewed by Patricia A. Farrell, PhD
Think happy thoughts. Find the silver lining. Look on the bright side.
Rolling your eyes yet? Alexandra Hruz is. She’s a 27-year-old self-proclaimed pessimist who lives in Chattanooga, TN. “When people are overly optimistic, it’s much easier to be let down by circumstances,” she says. “I don’t think the world is going to end tomorrow, but I also don’t like to hang my hopes on things working out on their own, simply by the power of positive thinking.”
But experts say positive thinking has serious benefits that go beyond a perky attitude. According to a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh, women who expect good things to happen have a 30% lower risk for heart disease.