Link found between optimistic attitudes, longevity and health
In order to ascertain if optimistic people have longer life spans than their pessimistic counterparts, a team of researchers from the Netherlands interviewed approximately 1,000 men and women between the ages of 65 and 85 about health, self-respect, morale, optimism and contacts, and relationships. The study, which was led by Erik Giltay, M.D., Ph.D, of Psychiatric Center GGZ Delfland, Delft, the Netherlands, included two key questions regarding optimism: "Do you often feel like life is full of promise," and "Do you still have many goals to strive for?" Answering yes to these questions revealed a sense of optimism. During the nine-year follow-up period, Dr. Giltay and his colleagues found that those participants who had reported higher levels of optimism were 55 percent less likely to die from any cause, and 23 percent were less likely to die from a heart-related illness as compared to the pessimistic group.
Another study led by Dr. Hilary Tindle from the University of Pittsburgh found similar results. The researchers used data from the Women's Health Initiative, an ongoing government study of more than 100,000 women over age 50 that began in 1994. Participants completed a standard questionnaire that measured optimistic tendencies based on their responses to statements like "In uncertain times, I expect the worst." Their results showed that eight years into the study, women who scored the highest in optimism were 14 percent more likely to be alive than those with the lowest, most pessimistic scores, with pessimists likely to have died from any cause, including heart disease and cancer. In addition, pessimistic black women were 33 percent more likely to have died after eight years than optimistic black women, while white pessimists were only 13 percent more likely to have died than their optimistic counterparts.
As Dr. Tindle notes, pessimistic women tended to agree with statements like, "I've often had to take orders from someone who didn't know as much as I did" or "It's safest to trust nobody." And she adds, "Taking into account income, education, health behaviors like controlling blood pressure and whether or not you are physically active, whether or not you drink or smoke, we still see optimists with a decreased risk of death compared to pessimists," says Dr. Tindle.
Although the exact reasons behind the correlation are not known, Dr. Tindle suggests two key explanations, which she is hoping to validate in clinical trials: optimistic people tend to have more friends and a larger social network on which they can rely during crises; and they can handle stress better, a risk factor associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and early death in previous studies.
News Release: Optimism: Paramount for longevity and health, Part 1 http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/19441/July 10, 2009
Study: Optimistic women tend to live longer http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1883402,00.html March 2009