20 September 2019

Live with Optimism

Welcome back. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recall that two weeks ago, I suggested you munch on dark chocolate to stay happy (Depressed? Try Dark Chocolate). Today, going further, I suggest you be optimistic, which can be a stretch with what’s going on in the world. Plus, it’s not as easy as reaching for chocolate. 

Don’t be blue and you’ll
probably live longer.
Here’s the deal. Studies have shown that optimists are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely. And now the latest: Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity, which is commonly defined as living to the age of 85 or older.

Optimism Study
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tapped two cohort (longitudinal) studies.

They analyzed data on 69,744 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 1,429 men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. The women were followed for 10 years, 2004 to 2014; the men for 30 years,1986 to 2016.

Both groups completed surveys on overall health and health habits (e.g., diet, smoking and alcohol use) and their level of optimism. The Nurses’ Health Study measured optimism using the Life Orientation Test–Revised; the Normative Aging Study used the Revised Optimism–Pessimism Scale from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2.

The researchers employed statistical modeling (accelerated failure time models) to assess life span differences associated with optimism, adjusting for demographic factors and health, and then considering the effect of health behaviors. They subsequently used predictive analyses (logistic regression) to evaluate the likelihood of exceptional longevity.

Scoring with Optimism
The study found higher optimism levels associated with increased longevity with both women and men. Women in the highest versus lowest optimism quartile had 15% longer life span and 50% greater odds of celebrating their 85th birthday. Men in the highest versus lowest optimism quartile had 11% longer life span and 70% greater odds of living 85 years.

The results held after accounting for age, demographic factors, chronic diseases, depression as well as health behaviors, including alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.

Wrap Up
While it’s clear that optimism delivers additional years, it’s not clear precisely how. Nevertheless, earlier work has shown optimism is modifiable, which suggests that promoting optimism might in turn promote longevity.

So, just keep thinking that good things are coming. The future is bright because we can control many important outcomes (like voting). Thanks for stopping by.  

Never mind if the glass is half empty or half full. Drink what’s there, and believe you can refill it.
Optimism study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal: www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/08/20/1900712116
Articles on study on EurekAlert! and NPR websites:
Cohort studies: www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/281703.php
Nurses Health Study: www.nurseshealthstudy.org/
Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study: www.maelstrom-research.org/mica/individual-study/va-nas
Life Orientation Test: www.midss.org/content/life-orientation-test-revised-lot-r
Revised Optimism-Pessimism Scale: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/1097-4679%28199503%2951%3A2%3C205%3A%3AAID-JCLP2270510210%3E3.0.CO%3B2-2

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