Are you an optimist, and do you encourage others to look on the bright side? If yes, then you may be supporting your own and other people's health in a powerful way.
A recent study found that optimistic women are more likely to live longer than their pessimistic peers. Optimism, defined as a generalized expectation that good things will happen, was associated with lower risk of premature death from stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease, infection and cancer.
"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," said co–lead study author Eric S. Kim, PhD, research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a university news release. "Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges."
The study was based on data from 70,000 women enrolled in the long–running Nurses' Health Study. Researchers measured participants' levels of dispositional optimism in 2004 and then assessed mortality rates from 2006 to 2012. The scientists also gathered information on race, blood pressure, diet and physical activity.
Compared with the most pessimistic women, the most optimistic had a 30% lower risk of dying from any of the causes studied—a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer; a 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease or respiratory disease; a 39% lower risk of dying from stroke; and a 52% lower risk of dying from infection.
"Previous studies have shown that optimism can be altered with relatively uncomplicated and low–cost interventions—even something as simple as having people write down and think about the best possible outcomes for various areas of their lives, such as careers or friendships," said co–lead study author Kaitlin A. Hagan, ScD, in a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health news release. "Encouraging use of these interventions could be an innovative way to enhance health in the future."
The study is available in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2016; doi:10.1093/aje/kww182).
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