Optimists live longer than pessimists, study finds

Optimism is associated with an 11 to 15 percent longer life span, on average, and with achieving "exceptional longevity," or reaching the age of 85 or older, according to a new study published Aug. 26 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Researchers pulled data from two cohorts, women from the Nurses' Health Study and men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. The women were tracked from 1976 to 2014 and completed a six-question optimism assessment in 2004, STAT reported. The men were tracked from 1961 to 2016, and they completed an optimism assessment in 1986. The study also used models to adjust for differences such as socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration and health behaviors.

Women in the highest optimism quartile had a 14.9 percent longer lifespan than women in the bottom quartile, the study found. The men had similar results. Women and men with the highest optimism levels had 1.5 and 1.7 greater odds, respectively, of surviving to age 85 when compared to those with the lowest optimism levels.

The study's authors believe people can learn to be more optimistic and that the trait could be targeted as a way to promote healthy aging, according to STAT. It is unclear, however, whether optimism itself leads to longevity or those who are optimistic are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors.

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