Optimism may help women live longer, study finds

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Experts say having a more positive outlook may make it more likely for women to live past 90

While recent studies have found how consumers’ food choices can help them live longer, a new study conducted by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explored how certain personality traits may affect our lifespans.

According to their findings, women with high levels of optimism may be more likely to live longer – sometimes past 90 years old. 

“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,” said researcher Hayami Koga.

“A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risk for disease 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.” 

Improving lifespan

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 160,000 women who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study. The women were between the ages of 50 and 79 when the study began, and they regularly completed surveys about their life experiences. The researchers followed up with them for nearly three decades. 

There was a clear link between optimism and longevity. The researchers found that participants with the highest levels of optimism were 10% more likely to live beyond 90 years old and increase their lifespan by nearly 5.5%. The team said these findings held up regardless of several important factors like healthy eating and exercise, chronic health conditions, mental health, and demographic factors.

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings inspire women to think differently about their health and wellness. 

“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” said Koga. “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.” 

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