Senior Health

11/9/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

Writer Terri L. Jones, whose optimistic aunt keeps going like the Energizer bunny, has wondered if optimism can help you live longer. So Jones did some research.

My 85-year-old aunt told me the other day, while in the hospital with fluid around her heart and lungs and headed for another rough stint in rehab, “It is what it is.” The only thing that upset her about this latest turn of events was the low-salt diet!

Rolling with the punches

In fact, that’s how my aunt has led her whole life, accepting and accordingly bouncing back from a multitude of hard knocks, including men who didn’t treat her well, breast cancer, a stroke, tight finances, her best friend passing away from COVID, and, these days, severe arthritis and spinal stenosis, which have restricted her to the first floor of her townhouse.

Despite all these situations that would’ve rocked – if not totally destroyed – most people, my aunt has still managed to find the joy in life. For her, breakfast at Hardees, a trip to the Dollar Store and a few hours with her great-grandkids makes for a very good day!

I’ve long believed that her positive, can-do attitude has probably added years to her life. As it turns out, scientific research bears out my theory and should give us all pretty compelling inspiration.

Can optimism help you live longer? Yes!

In 2019, researchers from Boston University, who had followed a group of women since 1976 and men since 1961, reported that those who scored higher on an optimism assessment had a greater chance of living past the age of 85.

According to their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the most optimistic of the test subjects had an 11% to 15% longer lifespan than those who had a more negative outlook. These results were consistent across socioeconomic status, depression, health conditions, social engagement, cigarette or alcohol use, and poor diet.

Positive effects of positivity

There’s plenty of research out there to point to a correlation between a positive outlook and good health. When you’re optimistic, not only will you typically have a stronger immune system, but researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine found that you’re also less likely to have a heart attack. In fact, those with a family history of heart disease were shown to be at a 33% lower risk of a cardiovascular event than their less optimistic family members.

Do you like learning if optimism can add years to your life?

Check out “Opening Our Minds to Joy.”

Beneath the cheerfulness

How do we explain this cause and effect?

“Optimistic individuals tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them,” lead author of the Boston University study, Lewina Lee, told CNN. Lee is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the university. “Those goals could include healthy habits that contribute to a longer life.” Healthy habits can include a better diet, exercise, more sleep, etc.

Another psychologist suggests that it may have to do with serotonin, one of the happiness hormones. If you see the glass as half full rather than half empty, you’re naturally going to have more serotonin in your body, which not only contributes to mood and well-being but also to many facets of health, including sleep, digestion, and blood clotting.

So, are you an optimist?

It’s important to note that these experts don’t define optimists as Pollyanna’s, who choose to blithely ignore the pitfalls in life. Instead, they are people who can see these bumps as simple detours, which may take them on a different, possibly even better, path.

If you don’t consider yourself an optimist now, take heart that a positive outlook isn’t totally innate (only 25%). It is a quality that can – and should – be cultivated. Watch for an upcoming article about how you can become more positive and joyful – and live longer!

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri L. Jones