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New study shows optimists live longer

Chris Pastrick
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As Monty Python says: “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Turns out, those funny Brits hit upon a very healthy outlook.

A new analysis of two previous studies shows that optimists have a better chance of reaching age 85 and older.

“A lot of evidence suggests that exceptional longevity is usually accompanied by a longer span of good health and living without disability, so our findings raise an exciting possibility that we may be able to promote healthy and resilient aging by cultivating psychosocial assets such as optimism,” writes Lewina Lee, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

The findings were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“Previous studies reported that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely,” Lee writes. “Our results further suggest that optimism is specifically related to 11% to 15% longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving ‘exceptional longevity,’ that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond.”

And, Lee writes, the findings were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, and alcohol use).

The previous studies Lee’s team based their research on included long-term projects — one using 70,000 women in a nurses’ health study and the other using 1,500 men in a veterans health study. In each, subjects were assessed for optimism — the former over a 10-year span and the latter over a 30-year span.

The Guardian reports the majority of subjects in the studies were white and mostly of high socioeconomic status. Therefore, further studies would need to confirm that the optimistic theory holds with other groups.

Dr. Catherine Hurt, senior lecturer in health psychology at City, University of London, told the Guardian the new findings are all the more reason to pay attention to our psychological wellbeing.

“An optimistic outlook appears to be a key part of a healthy lifestyle,” she says.

Chris Pastrick is a Tribune-Review digital producer. You can contact Chris at 412-320-7898, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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