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Longevity Briefs: How Optimism Might Help You Age Better

Posted on 22 January 2021

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: For good reason, we focus on the importance of practices like exercising regularly and healthy eating for living a healthier, longer life. However, we spend less time thinking about the psychology involved in actually maintaining these practices into old age. How large an impact can your attitude to growing older and to life in general have on your likelihood of ageing well?

Optimism Grows with Age | Visualized Health
Trends in optimism levels throughout life.
Clearvue Health
Original data from: Changes in optimism and pessimism in response to life events: Evidence from three large panel studies

What did the researchers do: In this study, 69 744 women and 1 429 men completed surveys to assess overall health and health practices, as well as general levels of optimism. They were then followed for 10-30 years, and researchers analysed the relationship between optimism and lifespan.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Individuals with the highest optimism levels at the start of the study lived between 11% and 15% longer than the least optimistic groups on average, and were also 50-70% more likely to reach the age of 85. This was true even after accounting for factors such as age, education, chronic diseases, depression and health behaviours like exercise and diet.

It is possible that those who are ageing more rapidly, but have not been diagnosed with any chronic disease of ageing, still notice a slight decline in health from year to year, leading them to be less optimistic. It is also plausible that pessimists are less likely to maintain healthy lifestyle practices into old age, perhaps because they view age-related health deterioration as inevitable. It may also be that optimistic people find it easier to ‘bounce back’ from stressful life events. Regardless of the nature of this link, optimism is a relatively easy psychological trait to develop through simple techniques, and may indirectly help you live longer besides many other benefits.

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