Women with this character trait could live longer, study finds

By Lindsay de Freitas
10 December 2016

Does this apply to you?

Having an optimistic outlook on life and expecting a positive outcome may help you live longer, according to a new study.

The Harvard study found that women who look on the brighter side had a significantly reduced risk of dying from several major illnesses — compared with women who often expect the worst.

The study, done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, revealed associations between high levels of optimism and a lower risk of death from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infections.

The study ran from 2004 to 2012 and researchers used a questionnaire to rate 70 021 women - with an average age of 70 - on their optimism. Surveys were done once every two years and women were asked to indicate their degree of agreement with six statements which aimed to reveal their general level of optimism and outlook on life.

Researchers also collected information on other factors that could affect their mortality risk such as: educational and socio-economic status, smoking, race, alcohol consumption, cancer, physical activity, hypertension and other diseases and behavioural characteristics.

Findings proved that those who considered their glasses half full - rather than half empty - lived healthier lives.

According to the study's findings, the optimists had a nearly 30% lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analysed in the study compared with the pessimists.

The most optimistic women had a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer; 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease; 39% lower risk of dying from stroke; 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease; and 52% lower risk of dying from infection.

The link between optimism and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease was particularly strong. The associations between optimism and the risk of cancer were also significant, but weaker.

While other studies have previously linked a positive outlook on life with a reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, this study was the first to find a link between optimism and a reduced risk of other illnesses.

It has been hypothesized - but not scientifically proven - that optimists feel less negativity and so experiencing less stress and produce less stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which increase the blood pressure.

“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 researcher Kaitlin Hagan, co-lead author of the study.

“Encouraging use of these interventions could be an innovative way to enhance health in the future.”

Sources: NY Times, The Guardian, Harvard.edu

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