In a new study, researchers have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve “exceptional longevity”, that is, living to age 85 or older.
The research was conducted by a team from Boston University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other institutes.
Optimism refers to a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes.
Whereas research has identified many risk factors that increase the likelihood of diseases and premature death, much less is known about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging.
The study was based on 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.
Women were followed for 10 years, while the men were followed for 30 years.
The researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15% longer lifespan, and had 50-70% greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups.
The results were the same after accounting for age, demographic factors such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviors, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet, and primary care visits.
The findings suggest positive psychosocial factors can promote healthy aging.
This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan.
Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.
It is still unclear how exactly optimism helps people attain long life. The team says more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively.
The researchers also consider that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits, such as being more likely to engage in more exercise and less likely to smoke, which could extend lifespan.
They hope the findings will inspire further research on interventions to enhance positive health assets that may improve the public’s health with aging.
The lead author of the study is Lewina Lee, Ph.D., a clinical research psychologist.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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