Do you want to live forever? Or at least until old age? The results of a new study suggest that optimism could be part of the equation. A large-scale study shows that people with a good life perspective lived up to 10 percent longer and had a better chance of turning 85.
"This study … suggests that optimism is such a psychosocial capital that has the potential to extend the life of a person," said Lewina Lee, a clinical research psychologist at the Boston University School of Medicine, who introduced the new study led, in a press release.
And if you're not particularly into pink glasses, there's hope. Optimism is something that can be learned to some degree, researchers say.
Look Up, Long Live
The research on extraordinary longevity, commonly defined as life up to 85 years or older, focused on the genetics of people who live for at least that long. More recently, researchers have shown that some factors that go beyond health, such as strong social relationships, are also important.
Optimism has also appeared in studies of this kind. Recent research suggests that optimism may have health implications for aging, such as the risk of heart attack. And researchers have found a link between optimism and a reduced risk of premature death. Whether optimism also helps you to live longer was unknown.
In the new study, Lee and colleagues have optimism and mortality rates at nearly 70,000 women and 1,500 women following men with questionnaires. They persecuted the women for 10 years and the men for 30 years. The researchers then investigated whether a higher level of optimism is associated with a longer lifespan. The analysis also looked at behaviors that would likely affect longevity, such as smoking, diet and physical activity. Positive Effects Women in the study with the highest level of optimism had an almost 9 percent longer lifespan than women with the lowest optimism levels. Men benefited similarly, the team reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Men with the highest optimism lived about 10 percent longer than men with the lowest optimism.
The researchers found that the results were retained even after considering the effects of depression. To be optimistic does not mean, according to the researchers, that one's life is free from stress, but that he is better able to cope with stress and other difficulties.
They also suggest that optimistic people are better at setting goals and sticking to them or adjusting them as needed rather than giving up. This could include health-related behaviors, such as diet or smoking cessation, and long-term health effects.
If you experience a positivity deficit in your life, the researchers find that other studies have shown simple things like writing. Exercises and meditation have been shown to promote optimism in the short term. More intense things like cognitive behavioral therapy are another option.
However, for the sake of brevity, the authors also mention that their study population was mostly white and of higher socioeconomic class. Both factors were generally associated with greater optimism, a sign that for some it might be more difficult to achieve a positive attitude than others. Regardless, their findings offer a different perspective on the age-old question of how to live into old age.
"We hope that our findings will stimulate further research on interventions to improve positive health items that can improve population health," Lee said.