There’s a lot of focus on disease risk factors: the things people do to make lives shorter and worse. Researchers at Harvard wanted to take a different approach.
Instead of looking at disease risk factors, they decided to look at how positive assets can impact health and longevity.
They learned that optimistic women tended to live longer and better than their more pessimistic counterparts regardless of race or ethnicity.
Researchers found that optimism was associated with living in greater health and longevity, like living past 90 years old.
The team analyzed data and survey responses from more than 159,000 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, which included postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 who enrolled in the 1990s and were followed for up to 26 years.
They used a psychological measure of optimism in which participants rated their feelings in statements like “in uncertain times, I usually expect the best.”
The results indicated that the most optimistic quarter of women was likely to live about 5 percent longer. They had a 10 percent greater likelihood of living past 90 compared to the 25 percent of women who were least optimistic.
Scientists still don’t fully understand why there is a link between outlook and longevity. Still, it may have something to do with emotional responses and potentially more favorable biological profiles, like lower levels of inflammation.
They may also have greater social support and networks, too. Optimistic people may also be more likely to have healthy lifestyle habits, like eating a nutritious diet and getting exercise. Of course, the diet and exercise may promote optimism, too.
It can be very difficult for some people to be optimistic, and it is not bad if you’re not naturally a sunny side up. A quick glance at the news can be a reminder that things aren’t necessarily great. Top that with personal struggles, and finding the silver lining can seem delusional.
But there might be ways to increase optimism and make it a part of your healthcare routine. Writing about positive experiences and gratitude, for example, are linked with greater optimism.