Three studies link optimism with healthy aging and living longer

If you want to live a long and healthy life, give optimism a try. That's the suggestion of a new study that found people who have an optimistic outlook on life tend to live longer, on average, than people who are less optimistic. The study is part of a large body of research that has found links between healthy aging and reduced risks of certain conditions like depression among optimists.

Optimists live longer

Last week, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reported findings related to optimism and its link to longevity. As part of the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 69,000 women and 1,400 men that had been gathered as parts of the Nurses' Health Study and the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study.

The study specifically looked at the association between optimism and what is called 'exceptional longevity,' which refers to living to the age of 85 years or older. Researchers looked at data on female and male participants' optimism levels and tracked their mortality status through 2014 and 2016, respectively, and found that after accounting for other factors, individuals who were optimistic were more likely to experience 'exceptional longevity.'

When compared to more pessimistic people, the optimistic participants were found to — on average — experience an 11- to 15-percent longer lifespan. The longer lives hint at healthier aging overall, which has itself been associated with optimism by multiple studies over the years.

Optimism and health benefits

The study detailed above was published only weeks after one from earlier in August that detailed a link between optimism and improved sleep quality. In that case, researchers with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed the sleep habits and optimism levels of around 3,500 people and found a positive link between an optimistic outlook and getting higher quality sleep.

The links between optimism and better health aren't new, however. Back in 2010, for example, a study that looked at older adults found that high levels of dispositional optimism was linked to healthy aging, including positive behaviors like brisk walking activities, moderate alcohol consumption, and non-smoker status.

Anyone can be an optimist

Though it may not come naturally to some people, anyone can learn to be more optimistic, which is defined as a positive attitude in the face of life's difficulties. A 2011 study out of Maastricht University investigated whether it is possible to increase one's optimism levels by having people imagine the best possible version of themselves across profession, relationships, and personal lives.

The results weren't terribly surprising — participants who spent a mere five minutes engaging in this imagination-based exercise for the duration of two weeks experienced 'significantly larger' levels of optimism even after controlling for other possible influencing factors.