An optimistic outlook can do wonders for your life, and apparently, it can also lengthen it. A new study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows a link between higher optimism and living past the age of 90 in women.
“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,” lead author Hayami Koga said in a press release. Koga is a PhD student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and is a part of the Population Health Sciences program in partnership with Harvard Chan School. The National Institutes of Health supported the research, and the Journal of American Geriatrics Society published it on June 8.
The group of researchers had previously conducted a similar study. In it, they found an association between optimism and lifespan and exceptional longevity (living beyond the age of 85). However, the participant pool for that research consisted predominantly of white populations. The current study fills in this gap. It includes women across different racial and ethnic groups. Koga explained that the mortality rate of such groups is higher than that of white populations. Thus, their inclusion becomes important for health policy decisions.
The group examined data and survey responses from 159,255 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative. The women enrolled in the study at ages 50 – 79 from 1993 to 1998. Researchers followed them for up to 26 years. The 25% most optimistic participants were likely to have a 5.4% longer lifespan than the 25% who were least optimistic. They also have a 10% higher likelihood of living past 90. The study did not find a relationship between optimism and racial or ethnic identity. The results held true after taking demographics, chronic conditions, and depression into consideration. Factors like regular exercise and healthy diet accounted for less than a quarter of the association found.
“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” Koga added in the press release. “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 research will thus be useful in shifting people’s attitudes towards health and mindset.