A sunny disposition could be the key to a longer life

Happy older couple
Happy older couple

When the world’s oldest human Jean Calment was asked the secret to her long life, the French supercentenarian, who lived to 122, replied: “Always keep your smile.”

Now science has shown that optimists really do live longer, with a sunny disposition adding an average of 4.4 years to lifespan, and increasing the chance of reaching 90.

In fact, scientists at Harvard now believe that looking on the bright side may be better for adding years to life than exercise –  which has been shown to increase lifespan by 0.4 to 4.2 years, in previous studies.

Although optimism is partially inherited, with upbeat parents more likely to have positive children, it can also be learned through cognitive-behavioural strategies.

Lead author Hayami Koga, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “We found that higher levels of optimism were associated with longer lifespan and greater likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity across racial and ethnic groups, suggesting the health benefits of optimism may hold across these groups.

“This work, in conjunction with findings linking optimism to a range of outcomes including physical health, suggest optimism may be a novel target for intervention to improve health.”

Lifestyle factors

For the study, researchers followed a group of nearly 160,000 older women in the US for 26 years and found that those ranked in the top 25 per cent for optimism lived an average of 5.4 per cent longer than peers in the lowest quarter.

Optimism was assessed using a questionnaire known as the “Life Orientation Test” – with marks given for responses to positive and negative statements such as “in uncertain times I usually expect the best” and “overall I expect more good things to happen to me than bad”.

A breakdown of findings showed that women in the most optimistic group were 10 per cent more likely to live past the age of 90 than those who were least optimistic.

While lifestyle factors, such as women’s ability to take part in exercise or choose healthy foods, had some impact on the findings, the researchers suggested other factors were at play.

These might include the types of support networks people have when going through rough times, and people’s own abilities to problem-solve and minimise risks to their own health.

The gains held even when taking into account life-limiting factors such as depression, chronic health problems, deprivation and poor education.

Although the study was on women, in 2019, the Boston University School of Medicine, found that both sexes were 50 to 70 per cent more likely to reach the age of 85.

Previous research has shown that optimistic people tend to have fewer stressful situations or perceive situations as less stressful than pessimists.

Chronic psychological stress is known to dampen the immune system and trigger a range of health problems including inflammation and high blood pressure which raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Suffering longer-term stress and then experiencing a stressful event can also trigger a condition known as Takotsubo syndrome, also known as broken heart syndrome.

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome often mimic a heart attack and include chest pain and shortness of breath.

It often follows an intense event such as the death of a loved one, a life-threatening medical diagnosis, losing a lot of money, redundancy or a relationship breakdown.

The new findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Published by anthonyhayble

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