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Optimism, Longevity and Health

Optimism and Longevity

Optimism may help you live longer.  Research projects have established a very strong link between optimism and longevity.

Dr Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution said, “The link between optimism and longevity is strong.”

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.

So too The American Heart Association's 2021 Scientific Statement shows "Multiple studies have found that optimism is associated with healthier behaviors such as more physical activity, not smoking, healthy diet score, better sleep quality, and higher composite cardiovascular health scores. An optimistic frame of mind has been shown to be associated with healthy aging and a lower risk of CVD, including stroke and heart failure, and a lower risk of all-cause mortality."

In a paper entitled, "The other side of the coin: Dispositional optimism, frailty, and negative life events in aging," Maria QuattropaniAlberto Sardella and Giorgio Basile state "dispositional optimism is a relevant psychological factor that is able to favor, directly or indirectly, individual well-being.,, Longevity and aging are two sides of the same coin. Longevity is the result of the favorable interaction between several biopsychosocial factors, leading to healthy aging; in this perspective, long-living subjects show greater positive expectations about the future, as well as being more resilient in facing age-related challenges. On the other hand, frailty denotes a common adverse outcome in aging; in fact, frail older adults appear less optimistic, and generally exhibit lower resilience, as previously suggested. Clinical practice and research are increasingly focused on counteracting frailty and promoting factors of resilience.  Dispositional optimism may denote the psychological common denominator between these two opposite pathways: optimistic subjects are more likely to reach longevity and, in addition, can exhibit lower levels of frailty."

According to a 2022 data analysis from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey, optimism is robustly associated with lower mortality risk among elderly Chinese. Furthermore, optimism and health behaviours were positively correlated with survival, with the positive effect of optimism on survival more significant than the positive effect of health behaviours. The researchers suggest interventions for optimism among older people would improve health in aging.”

Heart Health

Optimism is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events and pessimism was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events. A mindset of optimism is associated with lower cardiovascular risk and the researchers say the promotion of optimism and reduction in pessimism may be important for preventive health.

A 2021 Scientific Statement by The American Heart Association mapped the pathways by which negative emotions cause physical illness and why optimism lowers the risk of poor heart health.

I interviewed the Chair of the scientific panel Professor Glenn Levine and I asked Glenn, “One of the most exciting parts of your scientific study is you share the scientific explanations for why positive states of mind improve heart health. Do you want to share that with us?

Glenn put this very well, “This is a vital part of our investigation because if we just found random associations, that's nice, but that really doesn't take things to the next level. What I think is important is figuring out, are these just statistical associations that we see or is there what we call "biologically plausibility"? Whereas negative states lead to increased cardiac risk and decreased prognosis and positive states like optimism and happiness can contribute to decreased risk.

"There are multiple potential pathways. Those consist of things like biologic pathways, particularly things like inflammation, sympathetic and parasympathetic tone and other factors. There are obviously psychological and behavioural things.

"Are people who are happier and more optimistic versus pessimistic and depressed, are those people more likely to take their medicines? The answer is undoubted, yes.

"Are they more likely to care about the future, be interested in the future and so go for preventive screening and follow up on their appointments? The answer is certainly yes.

"Are they more likely to not smoke or try to stop smoking? Are they more likely to exercise regularly? Are they more likely to watch their weight or watch their diabetes? And the answer is certainly yes.

"And when you take this to the next step, well what can we see and what do we see? Less smoking, potentially lower blood pressure, potentially better glucose management, potentially watching your diet, so you don't give yourself too much salt intake and heart failure.

"All these things, biologically plausibility lead to decreased cardiac risk. So you're probably less likely to develop heart disease.”


Lower Blood Pressure

Harvard University’s Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that optimists have a lower risk of high blood pressure and hypertension.

Less Stress

The American College of Cardiology attributes this in part to the fact that ”Optimists persevere by using problem-solving and planning strategies to manage stressors.”

Most optimistic people are better able to balance their emotions more effectively and they more easily bounce back from the stresses that every life offers.

Jacob Hascalovici MD, PhD said, "Recent studies have highlighted a link between optimism and longevity. Optimism can train the mind to focus attention on more cheerful, supportive thought patterns and behaviors, which can reduce unhelpful rumination and lessen awareness and sensitivity to pain. Optimism can also play a role in feeling a greater sense of autonomy and help with stress management. The more effectively stress is managed, the less likely it is to contribute to chronic diseases. Experts who study happiness have shown that positivity and optimism can be both learned and practised."

Lower Inflammation

Stroke survivors with high levels of optimism had lower inflammation levels, reduced stroke severity and less physical disability.

Optimism Helps You Sleep Better

People who are optimistic tend to sleep better.

University of Illinois studies show people who are the most optimistic tend to be better sleepers.

So too a Medical University of Vienna study which shows the same link and made the point that better sleep helps enhance optimism.

The lead researcher in the Illinois study Professor Rosalba Hernandez said, "Optimists are more likely to engage in active problem-focused coping and to interpret stressful events in more positive ways, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they're falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle…Dispositional optimism—the belief that positive things will occur in the future—has emerged as a psychological asset of particular salience for disease-free survival and superior health.”

The Vienna Medical School’s Jakob Weitzer wrote, "The most optimistic participants in our Survey in the Austrian population had a 70 % lower insomnia prevalence compared to the least optimistic. Results were similar for men and women. Training optimism, or related personal traits, might be a promising tool to prevent insomnia and other sleep problems. Further, optimism training could be combined with established treatment approaches which could potentiate treatment effects. "

Health Generally

The Resilience Project’s Founder, Hugh van Cuylenburg, says “An optimist is less likely to die from infection, cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease. Optimists are also likely to enjoy better levels of mental health. Science shows optimists are significantly more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when unforeseen circumstances get in the way of achieving important life goals.”

Professor Dianne Vella-Brodrick puts it well, “When it comes to health, positive psychology goes beyond the idea that wellness is simply the absence of illness and instead looks at the body as a complete system. Along with being disease-free – indeed, research shows that being optimistic is linked to improved heart health, – positive health is defined by less frequent and briefer ailments, greater recuperative ability and rapid wound healing. What’s more, people who experience positive emotions are more likely to live longer than people who are less happy (but not depressed)."

 Professor Karen Hooker wrote, “We know that personality makes a difference in life outcomes, but the interesting questions are getting at how this works and under what conditions personality and outcomes, such as finding satisfaction with life or using health care services, are linked. One example is how personality affects coping with illness. We have known for some time that optimism is important for coping with and even recovering from serious illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease. High levels of optimism lead one to believe that there are things one can do to improve, and of course if you believe your actions will have positive health consequences, you are more likely to engage in positive health behaviors such as sticking to dietary guidelines, exercising, taking medications as prescribed and so forth. You are also more likely to be pleasant to be around and may, therefore, have a stronger social support system than someone who is not so optimistic.”

 Norman Vincent Peale in The Tough Minded Optimist, wrote, "A thoughtful physician once told me, “If you want to contribute to the public health, I suggest you speak and write often on the necessity for hopefulness, optimism and expectancy. Put some real up-beat into people’s minds.” He explained how important is a happy and optimistic spirit in healing, and went so far as to say that pessimism in a patient reduces the natural healing processes by ten per cent. I asked how he could pinpoint a particular percentage figure and found him vague on this; but the idea is that when your mind is filled with optimism your natural re-creative forces are stimulated.

“Another physician, in reviewing his practice of some forty years, said that many patients would not have been ill and forced to consult him if they had simply practiced optimism, faith and joy. He said, “Quite apart from medication, if I can get them to lift themselves mentally for ten minutes every day into an area of pure joy—meaning undiluted optimism, I can get them well and keep them well.” So it seems that medically, also, optimism is important."

Less Sick Days off Work

Looks like optimists take fewer sick days!

"People with high levels of mental wellbeing, characterised for example by being optimistic and having energy to spare, have significantly fewer annual sick days than others. This has implications for societal costs."

That's Ziggi Santini commenting on the study of the "Economics of m ental wellbeing: A prospective study estimating associated productivity costs due to sickness absence from the workplace in Denmark" conducted by researchers at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)Syddansk Universitet - University of Southern DenmarkKøbenhavns Universitet - University of CopenhagenUniversity of WarwickUniversitat de Barcelona and The Happiness Research Institute.

What Should we Do?

For The Aged: Quattropani, Sardella and Basile conclude, "Reinforcing dispositional optimism, as a factor of resilience, should also be a target of specialized psychological clinical intervention for older adults, with the purpose to improve their adaptation to age-related medical conditions, as well as to adverse life events."

So too, the conclusion from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey, the researchers suggest "interventions for optimism among older people would improve health in aging.”

“Optimism may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression among Chinese Breast Cancer patients through sensing more social support and finding more benefits from cancer. Psycho-social interventions and supportive care should focus on these adaptive resources to improve the quality of life of this group," is the conclusion of Qingqian Mo, Chen Tan, Xiang Wang, Tamini Soondrum & Jinqiang Zhang on "Optimism and symptoms of anxiety and depression among Chinese women with breast cancer: the serial mediating effect of perceived social support and benefit finding"

Read More inspiring insights on optimism in Victor Perton's "Optimism: The How and Why"

Optimims How and Why Cover


Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Arnold Relman

“There is no doubt that an optimistic and determined patient handles the vicissitudes of illness better than one who is depressed, negative and unhappy and defeatist about his illness."

Dr Milli Raizada, GP and senior clinical lecturer at Lancaster University in “5 easy steps for better heart health, from being more optimistic to a daily walk”

"Being optimistic, being present in the moment, having healthy, satisfying relationships and connectivity are all assets which encourage positive emotion, increasing resilience and improving disease prevention, health and longevity."

"I’m no cockeyed optimist, but I’ve long believed that how I eat and exercise, as well as how I view the world, can benefit my mental and physical well-being.

"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.

"Admittedly, the relationship between optimism and better health and a longer life is still only a correlation that doesn’t prove cause and effect. But there is also now biological evidence to suggest that optimism can have a direct impact on health, which should encourage both the medical profession and individuals to do more to foster optimism as a potential health benefit."


Study on Coping strategies, optimism, and resilience factors associated with mental health outcomes among medical residents exposed to coronavirus disease in Qatar

"One of our fields of interest in this study is to shed the light on optimism factors among the medical residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, as optimism is considered one of the coping mechanisms (World Health Organization, 2009).

"A clear set of coping skills, including how to think optimistically and how to approach problems and adversities, has been shown to help the health care workers. Gaining the skill of optimism can assist in confronting stress or setback, can help to overcome failure in particular events, and strengthens self-efficacy and resilience. This will increase the health care workers’ overall sense of well-being, helping them to be more beneficial to their society (Seligman, 2004).

"In this study, it has been found that optimism score was higher in senior than in junior medical residents. This finding may be explained by the difference of number of years experience between them.

"A Swedish study among pediatric oncologists in 2009 showed that links were found between their level of optimism and experience, and their optimistic attitude was helpful for their resilience (Stenmarker et al., 2009). An Indian study among nurses performed during COVID-19 pandemic indicated that psychological preparedness, self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism were higher among the nursing faculty and administrators than the students, and it was explained by that the lack in these areas for the younger student might improve with age and work experience (Gandhi et al., 2020)."


Yvonne Anderson, Founder of Mind Of My Own
"As I grow older, I grow in optimism." 😊
Yvonne Anderson As I grow older,  I grow in optimism.-


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