After years of research a new study has found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve exceptional longevity, defined as living to age 85 or older.
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health studied 69,744 women and 1,429 men, with both groups completing 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 then 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 per cent longer lifespan, and had 50 to 70 per cent greater odds of reaching 85 years 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 behaviours, including alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.
Optimism refers to a general expectation that good things will happen or believing that the future will be favourable because we can control important outcomes.
“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy ageing,” said corresponding author and clinical research psychologist Lewina Lee, PhD.
“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.”
Currently little is known about how optimism helps people attain longer life although senior author Laura Kubzansky, PhD said, “Other research suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behaviour as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively.”
While the link between optimism and health is becoming more evident, researchers acknowledge research on the reason why optimism matters so much remains to be done.