Optimism can prolong life

Optimists get older

It all depends on the attitude: Those who go through life optimistically have a good chance of getting particularly old. Because researchers have found that optimists live longer on average than more pessimistic people. These people therefore often reach a very old age and more often experience their 85th birthday. How exactly this effect of positive thinking comes about is still unclear.

Optimists not only go through life more satisfied and relaxed than pessimists. Their positive attitude also seems to be beneficial for their health. For example, studies suggest that optimistic people are better prepared for colds and even have a lower risk of cardiovascular problems.

But what does this mean for their life expectancy - do optimists also get particularly old? “Previous research on longevity has mainly focused on biomedical influencing variables. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that psychosocial factors are also important, ”explain Lewina Lee from the Boston University School of Medicine and her colleagues.

Optimist or pessimist?

To find out what role the psyche plays in longevity, the scientists have now evaluated data from two long-term studies with 69,744 women and 1,429 men. The women were between 58 and 86 years old at the start of their studies and were followed for ten years. The men were between the ages of 41 and 90 and had been followed for 30 years.

Both groups of subjects initially took part in a test that checked their attitudes - were they more optimistic or pessimistic? In addition, the researchers recorded the general state of health and health-related lifestyle habits of the participants, such as diet or the consumption of cigarettes and alcohol.

Longer life

Over the years, Lee's team documented who died, when and at what age. Would there be a connection between the level of optimism and the age reached? In fact, the analyzes revealed that the optimists lived longer and reached a very old age more often.

Specifically, the evaluations showed that the most optimistic men and women had an average lifespan of eleven to 15 percent longer than those with the lowest optimism values. They were also more likely to live to see their 85th birthday - by 50 to 70 percent.

"Psychological Resource"

The bottom line: These relationships held true even though the scientists had already factored out the influence of other factors such as chronic diseases. "Our results suggest that optimism acts as a psychological resource that promotes longevity," the researchers state.

According to them, it is still unclear exactly how a positive attitude towards life helps people grow old. But it could be, for example, that better handling of stress plays a role. Because chronic stress and the associated release of stress hormones can promote illnesses and signs of aging. In addition, an optimistic attitude could encourage certain health-beneficial behaviors, such as more exercise.

Getting old well

If future studies confirm the relationship that has now been observed, new possibilities for therapies may arise from this: “A longer lifespan often seems to go hand in hand with a longer healthy lifespan. Therefore, our results also play a role in understanding the psychological factors that promote healthy aging, ”explains the team.

Perhaps simple measures could help. Studies suggest that meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy can make people more optimistic. “Optimism could be influenced,” concludes Lee. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1900712116)

Source: Boston University School of Medicine / PNAS

27th August 2019

- Daniela Albat