optimism and longevity

New research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that women who look on the bright side of life have a significantly reduced risk of dying from a serious illness – in particular, cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection.

The Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality study, recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that a higher degree of optimism is associated with a lower mortality risk.

Co-lead author of the study and research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences Eric Kim observed a link between a positive outlook on life, a general expectation that good things will happen, to a lower risk of poor health outcomes, especially cardiovascular disease. 

The study analysed the data of 70,000 women participating in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study. It assessed the level of optimism, along with other contributing factors such as race, high blood pressure, diet, and physical activity in relation to mortality risk from 2004 to 2012.

The Harvard Gazette reported that the most optimistic women had a 16 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer, 38 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease, 39 per cent lower risk of dying from stroke, 38 per cent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease and 52 per cent lower risk of dying from infection.

In addition, it found that women with the most positive personality had an almost 30 per cent lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analysed in the study in comparison with the least optimistic.

Kim told The Harvard Gazette "our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviours and healthier ways of coping with life challenges".

"While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference," he said.

Written by Laura Baker. First appeared on Stuff.co.nz.

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