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Optimism appears to help women live longer

A new study has found that women can have a longer lifespan – beyond the age of 90 – with higher levels of optimism. This association was made across racial and ethnic groups in a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups,” said study lead author Hayami Koga, a PhD candidate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups.”

Previously, the research group found that optimism was linked to a longer lifespan and longevity. However, this study only looked at white populations. 

This time around, the participant pool was broadened to include women from various racial and ethnic groups. Including diverse participants in public health research helps to inform policy decisions. 

For the investigation, the researchers analyzed data and survey responses from 159,255 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, which included women aged 50–79 from 1993 to 1998. These individuals were followed for up to 26 years. 

The results of the analysis showed that the 25 percent of women who were the most optimistic were likely to have a 5.4 percent longer lifespan and a 10 percent greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years.

No interactions were found between optimism and race or ethnicity, even after taking into account demographics, chronic conditions, and depression. The results may encourage people to reconsider decisions that affect their health. 

“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” said Koga. “It is also important to think about the positive resources such as optimism that may be beneficial to our health, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups.”

The Women’s Health Initiative is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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