Optimism May Make for a Longer Life
Older adults with a bright outlook on
the future may live longer than those who take a dimmer view,
a study suggests.
Researchers in the Netherlands
found that older men and women judged to have optimistic personalities
were less likely to die over the nine-year study period than those
with pessimistic dispositions.
Much of this reduced risk was due
to lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease among the
most optimistic men and women in the study. They were 77 percent
less likely to die of a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular
cause than the most pessimistic group-regardless of factors such
as age, weight, smoking and whether they had cardiovascular or
other chronic diseases at the study's start.
The researchers, led by Dr. Erik
J. Giltay of the Psychiatric Center GGZ Delfland in Delft, report
the findings in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Many studies have tied negative
emotions, such as chronic depression and hopelessness, to the
risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or other conditions.
Less clear, according to Giltay's team, has been whether an optimistic
disposition -- the tendency to believe that good things, rather
than bad, will happen -- may help an older person live longer.
To investigate, the researchers
followed 941 Dutch adults between the ages of 65 and 85. At the
outset, participants completed a standard survey on general well-being
that included a scale that gauged their tendency to be optimistic
or pessimistic. The scale included statements like, "I often feel
that life is full of promises," and "I still have many goals to
Study subjects were divided into
four groups according to their levels of optimism or pessimism.
The researchers also collected information on lifestyle factors,
occupation, education and health history.
After an average follow-up of nine
years, 42 percent of the study group had died, but those with
the highest levels of optimism at the start had the lowest death
rates-30 percent versus more than 57 percent in the most pessimistic
With other factors considered,
the risk of death was 29 percent lower among highly optimistic
men and women.
There are a number of possible
explanations for the findings, according to the researchers. One
is that, although chronic disease was accounted for in this study,
pessimistic participants still may have been in poorer general
health, possibly suffering "subclinical" health conditions.
But optimism may have had positive
effects as well. Optimists, Giltay and his colleagues note, may
be better at coping with adversity, and may, for example, be more
likely to comply with medical treatment if they do fall ill.
It's also possible, they add, that
there are biological benefits of having a sunnier disposition,
such as effects on the immune and hormonal systems.
SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry,
Reference Source 89
November 2, 2004