A new study significantly found that optimism is associated with a longer life. Indeed, optimism is an independent protective factor against chronic diseases and translates into an 11 to 15% longer lifespan in both women and men.
The data is based on two cohorts, 69,744 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and 1,429 men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study (NAS), with follow-up of 10 years (2004 to 2014) and 30 years (1986 to 2016). Psychological tests measured the optimism level of each person. Also, adjustments were necessary to the data for demographics and health conditions. Surprisingly, the researchers found that women with higher optimism levels had a 14.9% longer lifespan. In men findings were similar. Participants with higher versus lower optimism levels had 1.5-fold (women) and 1.7-fold (men) odds of surviving to age 85.
Other studies on health effects of optimism
A research group from Harvard University analyzed the Nurses’ Health Study from 2004 to 2012 with 70,000 women participants with respect to optimistic individuals and negative individuals and their mortality outcome.
Equally important, the researchers compared the most optimistic women to the lowest 25% on the optimistic scale and significant differences emerged over a period of 8 years. Mortalities from the major diseases presented as follows.
- 16 % lower mortality from cancer
- 38 % lower mortality from heart disease.
- 39 % lower mortality from stroke.
- 38 % lower mortality from respiratory disease
These are impressive numbers, and they simply come from a difference in attitude about life in general. Being optimistic really makes a difference in people’s lives.
Another study took 660 elderly people and asked them whether they would agree that we become less useful as we grow older.
Those who did not agree with this statement eventually outlived the negative participants of the study by 7.5 years. It shows the power of optimism and how this translates into a longer life.
It really matters whether a person is optimistic or not. Within 8 years optimists will have 16% lower mortality from cancer, 38% lower mortality from heart disease and 39% lower mortality from strokes. In addition optimists also have 38% lower mortality from respiratory diseases. Participants with higher versus lower optimism levels had 1.5-fold (women) and 1.7-fold (men) odds of surviving to age 85. The Yale study established that being an optimist led to 7.5 years longer lives. Future research needs to investigate what it is in an optimist’s body that makes the person healthier. Does the immune system get a boost? Is cholesterol lower? These are all questions that need answers. In the meantime it does not harm to culture an optimistic outlook and incorporate humor into your lifestyle.