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Optimists really do live longer

A longitudinal study shows that an optimistic outlook is significantly linked to a longer life.

Decades of research seem to confirm some good news about aging: Being an optimist can help you live longer, regardless of other health factors. Those who naturally look on the bright side are also more likely to achieve “exceptional longevity,” defined as living to at least age 85.

The study was conducted by a group of researchers from Boston University School of Medicine [BUSM], the VA Boston Healthcare System and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It was based on a group of nearly 70,000 women who were followed for 10 years, and about 1,430 men who were followed for 30 years.

Both groups completed assessments of their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and habits such as diet, smoking and alcohol use. Both men and women who were the most optimistic lived between 11 and 15% longer, and had 50-70% greater odds of reaching their 85th birthdays compared to the least optimistic groups. This remained true even after accounting for age, demographic factors such as education level, chronic diseases, and depression as well as health-related behaviors such as alcohol use, exercise, diet and primary care visits.

The researchers acknowledged that it’s unclear how and why being optimistic helps people attain longer life – but said it could be related to an ability to better regulate emotions and behavior, as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively. They added that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits, such as being more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke, which could extend lifespan.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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