Want to live longer? Look on the bright side of life

BioTechniques News
Aisha Al-Janabi

What is the universal secret to living longer for women? It could be as simple as changing your mindset.

Growing evidence suggests that positive psychological factors are associated with a reduced risk of disease and mortality. Now, a team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (MA, USA), have discovered that higher optimism is linked to a greater lifespan across diverse groups of women. 

In a previous study, the team determined that higher optimism is linked to a greater lifespan in mostly white populations. In addition, they found that higher optimism is associated with exceptional longevity, which they defined as living past 85 years of age. 

Although diverse populations have higher mortality rates than white populations, there is limited research, making it difficult to make informed health policy decisions. In the current study, the team included more women from different racial and ethnic groups. 

The researchers analyzed data and survey responses from 159,255 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term national body of work focused on health issues causing mortality and morbidity in postmenopausal women. The women were aged 50–79 at enrollment from 1993 to 1998 and were followed for up to 26 years. 

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Amongst the participants, the 25% most optimistic women were likely to have a 5.4% longer lifespan and a 10% greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years, than the 25% least optimistic women. The trends remained after taking into account factors such as demographics, chronic conditions and depression. In addition, the researchers found no interaction between optimism and any categories of race and ethnicity.  

Lifestyle factors, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, accounted for just under a quarter of the association between optimism and lifespan. This finding suggests that other factors may be mediating this association. 

Overall, these findings highlight that optimism could be a novel target for lifespan-extending interventions across diverse groups of women. 

“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,” explained Hayami Koga, lead author of the study. “A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases 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.” 

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