Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 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.
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. When individuals were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups. The results were maintained 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.
"Optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively,” said Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-director, Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Your Image of Your Old Age
If you believe you are capable of becoming the healthy, engaged person you want to be in old age, you are much more likely to experience that outcome according to a 2021 Oregon State University study by Shelbie Turner and Karen Hooker
“How we think about who we’re going to be in old age is very predictive of exactly how we will be,” said Shelbie Turner.
Previous studies on aging have found that how people thought about themselves at age 50 predicted a wide range of future health outcomes up to 40 years later — cardiovascular events, memory, balance, will to live, hospitalizations; even mortality. This study showed that higher optimism was associated with more positive self-perception of aging,
"An optimistic spirit can bring significant benefits, including happiness, joy, active longevity, better health including lower risks of cardiovascular disease, better sleep, greater resilience, stronger relationships and increased self-mastery. "
THE AIA HEALTHIER TOGETHER STUDY 2020
The data is clear: “Have an Optimistic Outlook” is by far the strongest ingredient for a healthier longer, better life.
Dr Carol Graham, Leo Pasvolsky Senior fellow, Brookings Institution
“The link between optimism and longevity is strong.”
Catherine Barrett, Director of Celebrate Ageing.
"Optimism is essential to healthy ageing and longevity. Research shows that people who internalise ageism or only think about their ageing as loss, live on average 7 years less than those who are optimistic and think about the positive aspects of their ageing. Optimism enables people to act in ways that are empowered – to continue to throw themselves into life with enthusiasm."
Jane E Brody, Personal Health columnist, New York Times
"An increasing number of recent long-term studies has linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments and to fostering “exceptional longevity,” a category one team of researchers used for people who live to 85 and beyond."
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