Optimism – A Way To Promote Longevity?
By: Brie Darcy, PT, DPT.
Silver linings. Rose-colored glasses. Turning lemons into lemonade.
These common phrases are used to describe a term that has become very popular in the medical field. Optimism.
Optimism can be described as the tendency to be hopeful and emphasize the good part in a situation rather than the bad part. Similarly, it is the feeling that good things are more likely to happen in the future than bad things. Psychologists use a simple, well-known test to assess optimism – is the glass half full or half empty? Someone who is optimistic is likely to describe the glass as half full. Those who are less optimistic (or ‘pessimistic’) often describe the glass as half empty.
Why Is Optimism Important?
It’s no secret, we’re not getting any younger. And while we can’t stop the clock, new research is highlighting a possible way to achieve greater longevity. You guessed it – optimism!
A 3-decade long study of more than 70,000 participants was recently published. The goal of this study was to identify psychosocial factors that promote healthy aging and greater longevity. Results revealed that a higher level of optimism at baseline was associated with increased longevity. More specifically, these individuals achieved an 11-15% longer lifespan on average. Additionally, the most optimistic participants had a 50-70% greater chance of reaching age 85 than the least optimistic study participants. Importantly, they found that this association between optimism and longevity was independent of (or not influenced by) demographic factors including socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, and health behaviors.
This study follows previous research which has shown that optimistic individuals report better physical well-being, better physical functioning, less pain, fewer physical symptoms, and fewer chronic diseases.1,2 The combination of these results is extremely compelling and provides a strong case for the benefits of optimism.
Optimism and Stroke Research
If you or a loved one has experienced a stroke, or other significant medical condition, achieving an optimistic mindset might seem especially difficult. It’s hard to look on the bright side after encountering some of life’s biggest challenges. Those who are able to achieve these positive emotions, however, appear to experience favorable outcomes that are very notable and worth discussing.
Focusing specifically on stroke and prevention, researchers have found that higher levels of ‘positive affect’ significantly lowered the incidence of stroke and that an individual’s emotional state plays a role in their stroke risk.3 In other words, positive emotions can be powerful enough to actually reduce one’s risk of having a stroke.
A second research study examined if positive emotions could improve one’s function AFTER suffering a stroke. These researchers studied 823 stroke survivors during their inpatient rehabilitation stays and approximately 3-months post discharge. They found that individuals with a ‘positive emotion score’ demonstrated significantly higher overall functional status, as well as higher motor and cognitive status.4 In summary, these positive emotions were shown to both reduce the risk of having a stroke and improve recovery in stroke survivors.
Can Optimism Be Improved? Yes!
Do you find it difficult to see the glass as half full? It’s ok! Optimism does not come naturally to everyone. In fact, optimism is believed to be approximately 25% inherited (or handed-down by your family).5 Luckily, however, this means that the remaining 75% is learned and can be improved!
Stay tuned to our blog where next month we will share some top strategies that may help improve your optimism.
- Rasmussen HN, Scheier MF, Greenhouse JB. Optimism and physical health: a meta-analytic review. Ann Behav Med. 2009;37(3):239-256.
- Lee LO, James P, Zevon ES, et al. Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2019;116(37):18357.
- Ostir GV, Markides KS, Peek MK, Goodwin JS. The association between emotional well-being and the incidence of stroke in older adults. Psychosom Med. 2001;63(2):210-215.
- Ostir GV, Berges I-M, Ottenbacher ME, Clow A, Ottenbacher KJ. Associations between positive emotion and recovery of functional status following stroke. Psychosom Med. 2008;70(4):404-409.
- Kim ES, Hagan KA, Grodstein F, DeMeo DL, De Vivo I, Kubzansky LD. Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2017;185(1):21-29.