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If you want to give yourself a better shot at extending your life span, put your mind to it. New research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found a greater likelihood of living longer among optimists.
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The study, led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, included nearly 160,000 women. It found that across racial and ethnic groups, women with higher levels of optimism had a greater chance of living beyond age 90 than those whose outlook on life was less rosy.
“A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups,” lead author Hayami Koga, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard school, said in a statement.
What the study did
To determine if optimism plays a role in longevity, the researchers analyzed data and survey responses collected from 159,255 postmenopausal women who had enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative from 1993 to 1998 and were followed for up to 26 years. The researchers note that the WHI took pains to recruit a diverse set of participants, including 14,261 Black, 6,287 Hispanic/Latina and 4,144 Asian women.
When they were first interviewed, the women completed a revised version of a standard psychological exam called the “Life Orientation Test.” The test rates optimism based on responses to statements — such as “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” or “I hardly ever expect things to go my way” — that test takers are asked to rate on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
Study participants were separated into four groups based on their determined levels of optimism. The researchers found participants who fell into the most optimistic tier were likely to have a 5.4 percent longer life span (after adjusting for demographics, chronic conditions and depression) and a 10 percent greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years than those in the least optimistic tier.