A positive outlook makes you feel better – but does it make you healthier? A study of over 150,000 US women has found a link between optimism and longevity.
The study, which was published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, examined data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study that enrolled 161,808 postmenopausal US women between 1993 and 1998.
At enrolment, participants in the study completed (among other things) a test that measured their optimism.
The researchers took this data from 159,255 of the participants, and compared it to their lifespan. (Study participants who died less than two years after enrolment were excluded from the analysis, on the grounds that their health may have affected their optimism, as were participants who didn’t complete the test.)
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The researchers found that, across every racial and ethnic group in the study, higher optimism was associated with a longer lifespan. Lifestyle accounted for about a quarter of this association, but the link was still evident even when lifestyle was taken into account.
Other research has compared these optimism measures to other health factors in the past, but this is the first study to examine the race and ethnicity of the whole cohort.
“Although optimism itself may be patterned by social structural factors, our findings suggest that the benefits of optimism for longevity may hold across racial and ethnic groups,” says lead author Hayami Koga, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US.
“Optimism may be an important target of intervention for longevity across diverse groups.”
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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