Higher levels of optimism are linked to a longer lifespan and living beyond age 90 in women across diverse racial and ethnic groups. The corresponding study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Researchers have known for some time that optimism is linked to a longer lifespan. As most studies reporting this link focused on white populations, the researchers behind the current study sought to see whether the same is true in women from multiple racial and ethnic groups.
To do so, they analyzed data and survey responses from 159, 255 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative. Women were aged between 50 and 79 at enrolment between 1993 and 1998, and were followed for up to 26 years.
In the end, the researchers found that the 25% of participants who were the most optimistic tended to have a 5.4% longer lifespan and a 10% greater chance of living beyond 90 years of age than the 25% who were least optimistic.
Moreover, the researchers found that these results remained after accounting for race and ethnicity as well as other factors, including chronic conditions and depression. They noted, however, that lifestyle factors, including regular exercise and healthy eating, accounted for under a quarter of the optimism- lifespan link.
"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," said Hayami Koga, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School and 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 in focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups,” she added.