Are you an optimist or perhaps pessimistic most of the time? There could be a link between optimism and your health. A recent study suggests that optimistic people are likelier to live 85 years old or more than those who are not.
Optimism is a psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes.
This study was carried out by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and was published in the Science Journal PNAS . The study was an observational study and did not consider other factors such as the presence of other health conditions, health behaviours, depression, socioeconomic status and social integration, all of which influence lifespan.
Optimistic People Likely to Live Longer
Studies by other researchers show that optimistic individuals tend to have a reduced risk of depression, heart disease and other chronic diseases. This new study further sought to find out the link between optimism and long life in which the researchers looked into the medical records of two groups of people – female nurses, and males (mostly veterans).
“We wanted to consider, in the current issue, benefits of psychological resources like optimism as possible new targets for promoting healthy aging,” says Lewina Lee, who headed the study. She’s a clinical research psychologist at Boston University.”
The study included 69,744 women and 1,429 men. Both groups completed survey measures to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and health habits such as diet, smoking and alcohol use. In the survey, study participants were asked if they agreed with statements such as “in uncertain times I usually expect the best” or “I usually expect to succeed in things that I do.
Health outcomes from women in the study were tracked for 10 years, while the men’s health was followed for 30 years. The Researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11-15% longer lifespan, and had far greater odds of reaching 85 years old, compared to the least optimistic group.
How Optimism Affects Longevity
According to the researchers, optimistic people might be more motivated to try to maintain good health such as maintaining a decent diet, engaging in regular exercise and not smoking which can in turn improve longevity.
Optimists may also be better at regulating stress, says Lee. And since unrelieved stress affects our health by increasing risk of heart disease, liver disease and gastrointestinal problems, these group of people are likely to live longer in to older ages.
In addition, clinical health psychologist Natalie Dattilo, who works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, emphasizes that optimism isn’t simply the absence of depression or sadness or stress.
“People who are optimistic are still prone to to stress,” she says. “They are functioning in our society, meeting demands, prone to burn out. And it’s like negative events won’t happen .” But the way they cope with the problem makes a difference, she says. “Difficulties don’t tend to cause them distress for extended periods of time.”
She also added that “resilience is our ability to bounce back, to recover. And what this study shows is that optimism actually plays a very big role in our ability to bounce – even if we experience set backs.”
Dattilo advises that people need to pay attention when a negative outlook kicks in, and try to consciously shift it. “Just try it on, try on a different thought, attitude or mindset and play that out and just see what happens,” she advises.