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Optimism 'can help women live longer'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed
happy woman

8th December 2016 – Do you see the glass half full or half empty? A new study suggests that having an optimistic outlook on life could help you live longer – if you're a woman that is.

The research doesn't necessarily mean that looking on the bright side of life isn't beneficial for men. It's just that the research, published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, only examined data from a study of women.

Psychological resilience

"While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference," says Eric Kim, a research fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the US, who helped lead the investigation.

"Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviours and healthier ways of coping with life challenges," he says.

Major diseases

The study analysed 8 years of data from a long-running study into the health of American nurses. It looked at levels of optimism and other factors that might influence the risk of dying, such as ethnic background, blood pressure, diet and how much exercise they got.

The researchers discovered that the most optimistic women had almost a 30% lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analysed compared with the least optimistic women.

More specifically, compared with the least optimistic, the most optimistic women had:

  • A 16% lower risk of dying from cancer
  • A 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease
  • A 39% lower risk of dying from stroke
  • A 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease
  • A 52% lower risk of dying from infection.

The researchers say that previous studies have linked a positive state of mind with a reduction in the risk of dying from heart disease, but this is the first time that a link has been established between optimism and a lower risk of other major diseases.

"Previous studies have shown that optimism can be altered with relatively uncomplicated and low-cost interventions – even something as simple as having people write down and think about the best possible outcomes for various areas of their lives, such as careers or friendships, says co-author Kaitlin Hagan in a statement. "Encouraging use of these interventions could be an innovative way to enhance health in the future."

Measuring happiness

The importance of wellbeing was recognised by UK authorities 6 years ago when the Office for National Statistics announced it would start measuring how happy we were.

There is even a UK charity dedicated to boosting happiness. According to Action for Happiness, having a greater sense of wellbeing can improve immunity to infection, lower the risk of heart disease and help prevent mental decline.

Reviewed on December 08, 2016

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