Being an optimist can add years to your life
Optimism was assessed using a questionnaire known as the 'Life Orientation Test'
By Mark Waghorn via SWNS
Being an optimist can add years to your life, according to new research.
A large-scale study found those who 'always looked on the bright side' were more likely to make it past 90.
The phenomenon applied across racial and ethnic groups - adding to evidence happiness is good for the body as well as the mind.
Lead author Hayami Koga, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reckons it's as good for you as exercise.
She said: "Although optimism itself may be patterned by social structural factors, our findings suggest that the benefits of optimism for longevity may hold across racial and ethnic groups.
"Optimism may be an important target of intervention for longevity across diverse groups."
The findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society are based on 159,255 women in the US, tracked for up to 26 years.
Optimism was assessed using a questionnaire known as the 'Life Orientation Test' - one of the most commonly used measures of optimism in research and practice.
Other factors such as educaton, marital status, income and chronic conditions were taken into account.
Those ranked in the top 25 percent for optimism lived an average 5.4 percent longer than peers in the lowest quarter.
Ms Koga said: "Higher optimism was associated with longer lifespan and a greater
likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity overall and across racial and ethnic
groups. The contribution of lifestyle to these associations was modest.
"Optimism may promote health and longevity in diverse racial and ethnic groups. Future
research should investigate these associations in less long-lived populations."
Growing evidence suggests positive psychological factors are associated with lower risk of morbidity and mortality.
In particular, optimism - the generalized expectation of positive future outcomes - has been consistently associated with improved health outcomes including exceptional longevity.
A sunny disposition is partly in the genes. But experiments have demonstrated it can be inspired by writing exercises and cognitive-behavioral strategies.
Ms. Koga said: "This work, in conjunction with findings linking optimism to a range
of outcomes including physical health, suggest optimism may be a novel target for intervention to improve health."
Research has suggested optimistic individuals take more proactive approaches to promote their health.
They are also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors such as increased physical activity, a healthier diet and not smoking.
Ms. Koga said: "This evidence suggests such behaviors may mediate the relationship between optimism and longevity."
The findings support previous work. One study in mostly white American women found optimism was linked to 15% longer lifespan and 50% greater odds of achieving exceptional longevity.
Ms. Koga said: "Of note, exercise has been widely recognized as an important factor for
health and studies have shown that regular exercise adds 0.4 to 4.2 years of life when adjusting for confounding risk factors.
"Thus, our findings suggest the impact of optimism may be comparable to that of exercise."
Psychological stress and distress can trigger a host of physiological changes that are bad for health, she said.
These include activation of the immune and autonomic nervous system, changes in brain chemicals, blood clot and oxidative stress.
Ms. Koga said: "Positive psychological factors may buffer psychological stress as well as the physiologic reactions.
"In addition optimists appear to have greater social support, use problem-solving and
planning strategies to minimize health risks and are better able to regulate emotions and behavior."
She added: "In conclusion, we found that higher levels of optimism were associated with longer lifespan and greater likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity across racial and ethnic groups, suggesting the health benefits of optimism may hold across these groups.
"Thus, while some evidence suggests optimism itself is patterned by some social structural factors, meaningful associations between optimism and health remain even after robust adjustment for these factors and when examined separately across race and ethnic groups.
"The contribution of lifestyle to these associations was evident albeit modest. As prior work has demonstrated that optimism is modifiable, it may be a novel target for interventions that aim to extend lifespan across diverse racial and ethnic groups."
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