Optimism is A Key Component of Longevity?

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
October 20, 2022
Older woman smiling

You can also boost your life span with something you probably haven’t thought of – optimism. A growing body of research links higher levels of optimism with a longer lifespan.
Yes, as you go through life, you’ll endure trials and tribulations that affect your outlook and potentially dim your positivity, including issues such as:

  • Poor health
  • Environmental conditions
  • Socioeconomic issues

Some people are wired to be happy and self-confident, while others are not. 

But it’s important to remain hopeful, according to new research. Scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data and survey responses from 159,255 women ages 50 to 79 enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative between 1993 and 1995 and followed for up to 26 years. Researchers compared the 25 percent of most optimistic women in the group to the 25 percent least optimistic women and found the most optimistic women were likely to have a:

  • 5.4 percent longer lifespan
  • 10 percent greater likelihood of living beyond 90

Results were consistent across racial and ethnic groups and remained intact even after taking demographics, chronic conditions and depression into consideration. Meanwhile, typical longevity factors like regular exercise and healthy eating accounted for less than 25 percent of the optimism-lifespan connection, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

“We’ve been missing a significant piece of the longevity puzzle — being happy and optimistic have profound effects on our health outcomes,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP.

In another study, Harvard T.H. Chan researchers teamed up with researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System to look at the relationships between levels of optimism, overall health and lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, exercise, alcohol use and diet among two large cohorts of women and men. Results showed study participants with the highest levels of optimism:

  • lived on average of 11 to 15 percent longer than the least optimistic participants.
  • had a 50 to 70 percent higher change of reaching 85 years old.

"These results were consistent, even when factoring in demographic factors, education level, chronic diseases, depression, alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits," according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These studies show that optimism can prolong your life, even if you don’t have perfect health or lifestyle behaviors,” says Kaminetsky. “Although we lack a physiological understanding of the connection between optimism and longevity, we do realize that optimism helps protect our health.”

Two additional studies agree that optimism protects our health: One showed that optimism helps lower the risk of coronary heart disease in older men. And the other determined optimism was linked with higher levels of pulmonary function and slower rates of pulmonary decline. Finally, a University of Michigan study found that optimism may play an important role in staving off strokes among in adults.

How to Stay Optimistic

Staying optimistic during times of adversity is easier said than done, but it is possible. But when the going gets tough, try these tips.

  • Keep a gratitude journal or write a gratitude letter. Reminding yourself of the positives in your life can help you stay optimistic. 
  • Make time for self-care. Getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy foods and meditation can help maintain a happy mood. Also make sure you’re talking positively to yourself and limiting self-deprecating thoughts.
  • Treat Yourself. Scheduling treats like a home spa or staycation are effective ways to lift your mood. Treats don’t have to be expensive. Just taking time for a walk or a class can help you.
  • Spend time in nature. Grounding yourself in nature (without electronic devices) can help you unwind, practice mindfulness and put circumstances in their proper perspective.   
  • Celebrate your wins. “It takes four good things to overcome one bad thing,” says research psychologist Robert F. Baumeister. Rewarding yourself for small victories will help you overcome a perceived loss.
  • Reframe your thinking. Finding the bright side in situations can help you stay optimistic. Many situations are blessings in disguise. Believing in the adages “everything happens for a reason” or “everything is happening for me” can help you find a silver lining.

And of course, if you’re not feeling your best in terms of your mental health, talk to your doctor. Your primary care physician may have advice, recommend some techniques, prescribe medication or refer you to a specialist.

Don’t have a doctor? Consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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