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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 strive for."

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 group.

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, November 2004.

Reference Source 89
November 2, 2004



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