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Optimistic people live longer, study shows

People who always see the glass half full and expect the best in life may live longer than their pessimistic counterparts, a new study has found. 

Optimists are known for being hopeful and positive about the future, and studies have shown that having a positive outlook can benefit heart health, reduce anxiety, and aid in recovery

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine, the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, and the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health set out to examine the impacts of positive psychological factors like optimism on healthy aging. 

“Research on the reason why optimism matters so much remains to be done, but the link between optimism and health is becoming more evident,” said Fran Grodstein, a senior author of the study. 

For the study, the researchers reviewed and analyzed survey data from 69,744 women, and 1,429 men who had answered questions about level of optimism, diet, lifestyle, and overall health.  

The women were followed for ten years while the men were followed for 30 years, and the researchers found a clear link between an optimistic outlook and a longer lifespan. 

Those who reported having a high level of optimism were 50 to 70 percent more likely to reach 85 compared to less optimistic individuals. 

Optimism helped increase longevity even after the researchers factored in diet, alcohol use, smoking history, history of depression, and level of education. 

“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,” said Lewina Lee, a corresponding author of the study. “Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.”

It is unclear exactly how optimism impacts lifespan, but it’s possible that a positive outlook helps people cope better with stressful situations or that optimistic people have healthier habits, according to the researchers. 

“Our study contributes to scientific knowledge on health assets that may protect against mortality risk and promote resilient aging,” said Lee. “We hope that our findings will inspire further research on interventions to enhance positive health assets that may improve the public’s health with aging.” 

The researchers published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke

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