A recent study conducted by researchers based in the US, has revealed that optimism – the ability to think positive – is key to prolonged life among women.
The 26-year long research, a copyright of The American Geriatrics Society, was conducted on 1,60,000 women aged between 50 and 79 years, according to a report published in the Daily Beast, penned by Fuschia Sirois, a professor in social and health psychology at Durham University.
In the beginning, the participants completed a self-report measure of their optimism. Those with higher scores were categorised as optimists while those with lower scores as pessimists. The researchers tracked the lifespan of the participants till 2019.
In 2019, the researchers followed up with the participants still alive and also looked at those who had passed away. The findings revealed that the participants with the highest levels of optimism were more likely to live longer and even make it to their 90s, which the researchers termed as "exceptional longevity".
The average lifespan for women in developed countries is about 83 years, according to the Daily Beast report.
The findings of the study remained valid even after taking into account other factors – education and economic status, ethnicity, and cases of depression or other chronic health conditions – that are known to predict potentials for longevity.
However, given that the study was only conducted on women, it remains uncertain whether similar findings will be observed for men.
Earlier, another similar study conducted in 2019 on both male and female participants had found that people with the highest levels of optimism tend to live 11-15 percent longer than those with least optimism.
But why is optimism linked to longer life?
Previously, studies have shown that people who think positive tend to enjoy healthier lifestyle, with higher levels of wellbeing, healthy diet, better sleep, lower stress, better cardiovascular health and immune function.
But the new study revealed that healthier lifestyle accounted for only 24 percent of the link between optimism and longevity, while suggesting a number of other factors that may be in play in this context, according to the Daily Beast report.
People who think positive tend to deal with stress better as they use adaptive coping strategies to face the stressful situation. They either resolve the source of stress or manage the situation in a less stressful way. These approaches not only reduce feelings of stress, but also the impact of its biological reactions – such as higher secretion of cortisol (the "stress hormone"), increased heart rate and blood pressure, and impaired immune system functioning.
Precisely, positive thinking helps a person manage stress better, which may help protect themselves against its harmful effects, thereby improving their likelihood to live longer.
According to researchers, optimism is a relatively stable personality trait that is determined by both genetic and early childhood influences, such as warm and secure interactions with parents and caregivers.
However, even if a person is not naturally prone to thinking positively, it is still possible to enhance one's level of optimism over time, the report said.
Simple exercises, such as imagining one's "best possible self" or an account of the person's future version of having fulfilled the aspirations, and then writing about it, or just simply thinking about positive future events have been found to boost optimism.
The researchers, however, stressed that more research is needed to fully explore the link between positive thinking and longevity.
BDST: 1528 HRS, JULY 3, 2022