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Optimists Live Longer: Optimism and LOngevity

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to age 85 or older.   They use a definition "Optimism refers to a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes."

The Boston-led study was based on 69,744 women and 1,429 men. Both groups completed survey measures to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and health habits such as diet, smoking and alcohol use. Women were followed for 10 years, while the men were followed for 30 years. When individuals were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups. The results were maintained after accounting for age, demographic factors such as educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviors, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.

"Optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively,” said Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-director, Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The American Heart Association's 2021 Scientific Statement shows "Optimism is characterized by having a sense of hopefulness and confidence that things will work out well in the future and anticipating the best possible outcomes. Multiple studies have found that optimism is associated with healthier behaviors such as more physical activity, not smoking, healthy diet score, better sleep quality, and higher composite cardiovascular health scores. An optimistic frame of mind has been shown to be associated with healthy aging and a lower risk of CVD, including stroke and heart failure, and a lower risk of all-cause mortality."

A later 2021 international study led by Monash University's Heather Craig is entitled "The association of optimism and pessimism and all-cause mortality: A systematic review" found optimism is associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality. Greater unrealistic optimism and pessimism were associated with an increased mortality risk.   Several mechanisms could explain the relationship between pessimism and increased mortality risk. High levels of pessimism predict persistent perseverative thoughts – persistent cognitions about and stressful or feared events that have already occurred or that may happen in the future . Perseverative thinking leads to damaging, sustained physiological arousal which places stress upon the cardiovascular system, thus increasing risk of premature mortality. Pessimism is associated with increased levels of inflammation, increased rate of shortening of telomeres, a biomarker of ageing, cardiac risk factors including higher ambulatory blood pressure, and worse metabolic function as indicated by higher fasting insulin levels, all associated with increased mortality risk. 

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Yoram Maaravi and Jeremy Jacobs research study of people over the age of 85 finds "that being optimistic continues to confer a survival benefit irrespective of advancing age."  Yoram and Jeremy were examining the hypothesis that being optimistic at ages 85 and 90 is associated with improved survival.

According to a 2022 data analysis from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey, optimism is robustly associated with lower mortality risk among elderly Chinese. Furthermore, optimism and health behaviours were positively correlated with survival, with the positive effect of optimism on survival more significant than the positive effect of health behaviours. The researchers suggest interventions for optimism among older people would improve health in ageing. Policymakers should formulate targets to promote individual health, foster psychological resources and encourage the elderly to participate in recreational and social activities, which could help them live longer in a healthier way.

Your Image of Your Old Age

If you believe you are capable of becoming the healthy, engaged person you want to be in old age, you are much more likely to experience that outcome according to a 2021 Oregon State University study by Shelbie Turner and Karen Hooker

“How we think about who we’re going to be in old age is very predictive of exactly how we will be,” said Shelbie Turner.

Previous studies on aging have found that how people thought about themselves at age 50 predicted a wide range of future health outcomes up to 40 years later — cardiovascular events, memory, balance, will to live, hospitalizations; even mortality.  This study showed that higher optimism was associated with more positive self-perception of aging,

Learn More "The Habits of the Optimist"

Victor Perton, COO, Centre for Optimism

"An optimistic spirit can bring significant benefits, including happiness, joy, active longevity, better health including lower risks of cardiovascular disease, better sleep, greater resilience, stronger relationships and increased self-mastery. "


The data is clear: “Have an Optimistic Outlook” is by far the strongest ingredient for a healthier longer, better life.

“Healthier Together” from AIA Group

Dr Carol Graham, Leo Pasvolsky Senior fellow, Brookings Institution

“The link between optimism and longevity is strong.”

Catherine Barrett, Director of Celebrate Ageing.

"Optimism is essential to healthy ageing and longevity. Research shows that people who internalise ageism or only think about their ageing as loss, live on average 7 years less than those who are optimistic and think about the positive aspects of their ageing. Optimism enables people to act in ways that are empowered – to continue to throw themselves into life with enthusiasm." 

Jane E Brody, Personal Health columnist, New York Times

"An increasing number of recent long-term studies has linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments and to fostering “exceptional longevity,” a category one team of researchers used for people who live to 85 and beyond."

in "Looking on the Bright Side May Be Good for Your Health"

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