Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the US, famously said, "Pessimism never won any battle." These words hold true in nearly all aspects of life as optimism is considered a crucial requisite to overcome adversities. However, can optimism help one emerge victorious in the battle to live longer? Yes, say scientists! According to a recent multi-institutional study, higher amounts of optimism are associated with a longer lifespan and longevity.
The study led by researchers from Harvard University found that higher levels of optimism in women from diverse racial and ethnic groups were linked to them living longer and their higher likeliness of living up to or beyond the age of 90. It was also learnt that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise played a limited role when it came to the association between longevity and optimism. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Dr. Hayami Koga, lead author of the study, said in a statement: "Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups. She added that the findings suggest that positive psychological factors such as optimism can be looked at as "new ways of promoting longevity and healthy ageing across diverse groups."
Considering Racial and Ethnic Diversity
In a previously published study, the team had suggested that optimism was associated with exceptional longevity—which was defined as living to the age of 85 or above—and a longer lifespan. However, mostly white populations constituted the study's participants. Hence, in order to ensure that the current study was not bound by its predecessor's limitations, the scientists included women from diverse racial and ethnic groups to expand the pool of participants.
According to Dr. Koga, the inclusion of varied populations in such research is essential for public health as the mortality rates of certain racial and ethnic groups are higher when compared to white populations. She also noted that the availability of corresponding data that can aid in the formulation of health policy decisions is limited.
For the current study, the authors scrutinised data gathered from 159,255 women who were participants in the Women's Health Initiative, a long-term national health study in the US that explores strategies to prevent chronic diseases and their effects in postmenopausal women. Aged between 50-79, the women were enrolled from 1993 to 1998, and a follow-up of up to 26 years was conducted.
Higher Optimism, Longer Life
The researchers observed that 25 percent of the participants—who exhibited the most amount of optimism—had a probability of having a lifespan that was 5.4 percent (or four years) longer. These women also had a 10 percent higher chance of living beyond the age of 90 when compared to 25 percent of the enrollees who emerged as the least optimistic.
In addition, the authors also found that there was no connection between optimism and difference in ethnicities and races. These observations were applicable even after considering elements such as chronic health conditions, demographics, and mental health disorders such as depression.
Importantly, lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking, and quality of diet, accounted for only 24 percent of the link between optimism and longevity. This suggests that other factors may be playing a crucial role in the optimism-lifespan association.
Emphasising that the findings can help individuals reexamine the decisions affecting their health, Dr. Koga concluded: "We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health. It is also important to think about the positive resources, such as optimism, that may be beneficial to our health, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups."