A study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that higher levels of optimism are associated with longer lifespan and living beyond age 90 in women across racial and ethnic groups.
“Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups,” said Hayami Koga, a PhD student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences studying in the Population Health Sciences program in partnership with Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study.
Because previous studies had looked at mostly white populations, the research group broadened the participant pool in the current study to include women from across racial and ethnic groups. According to Koga, including diverse populations in research is important to public health because these groups have higher mortality rates than white populations, and there is limited research about them to help inform health policy decisions.
The researchers analyzed data and survey responses from 159,255 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, which included postmenopausal women in the U.S. The women enrolled at ages 50–79 from 1993 to 1998 and were followed for up to 26 years.
Of the participants, the 25% who were the most optimistic were likely to have a 5.4% longer lifespan and a 10% greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years than the 25% who were the least optimistic. Lifestyle factors, such as regular exercise and healthy eating, accounted for less than a quarter of the optimism-lifespan association, indicating that other factors may be at play.
For the authors, the study results could reframe how people view decisions that affect their health: “We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” said Koga. “It is also important to think about the positive resources such as optimism that may be beneficial to our health, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups.”
Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society | Harvard