New medical research has revealed an optimistic outlook on life may be the key ingredient to a longer, healthier life for women.
A study by the Harvard University’s School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found women for whom the glass was always half-full significantly reduced their risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infection.
Research fellow at the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences and co-lead author of the study Dr Eric Kim said: “While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference.
“Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviours and healthier ways of coping with life challenges.”
Harvard University study finds link between better health and positivity
Researchers looked at the data of 70,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked the health of women via biennial surveys between 2004 and 2012.
In particular, they studied the participants’ levels of optimism and the factors affecting mortality such as diet, physical activity, blood pressure and race.
And they found the most optimistic women, those in the top quartile, had an almost 30 per cent lower risk of dying from any disease analysed in the study compared to the least optimistic women in the bottom quartile.
In detail, the most optimistic women surveyed had a 16 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer, 38 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease, 39 per cent lower risk of dying from a stroke, 38 per cent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease and a 52 per cent lower risk of dying from infection.
A healthy lifestyle could only partially explain the link between optimism and reduced mortality risk, according to Dr Kim.
The other possibility, he claimed, is higher optimism directly impacts on our biological systems improving health.
This is not the first time optimism has been linked to better health.
A study by Harvard’s School of Public Health in 2012 revealed positive psychological well-being reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.
Research fellow and lead author Julia Boehm said at the time: “The most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers.”
The latest findings for women could change the way healthcare is provided in the future.
Research fellow and co-lead author of this new study Dr Kaitlin Hagan said: “Previous studies have shown that optimism can be altered with relatively uncomplicated and low-cost interventions–even something as simple as having people write down and think about the best possible outcomes for various areas of their lives, such as careers or friendships.
“Encouraging use of these interventions could be an innovative way to enhance health in the future.”