New research shows the effect of positive thinking on the body.
If you see your glass as half full, as opposed to half empty, you might live longer – much longer, according to a rosy new study on the subject. And don’t be surprised if a positive outlook also gives you a better night’s sleep.
A new study has shown that women who consider themselves highly optimistic, live 15% longer than less optimistic women and are 50% more likely to reach the age of 85. The most optimistic men live 11% longer and are 70% more likely to reach the age of 85. According to the researchers, the differences between the test results in men and women are not significant.
The research, published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, followed 69,744 women and 1,429 men for 30 years. Both groups were examined at the beginning to determine their level of optimism, as well as other factors that were taken into account in the study, such as demography, health, mental issues and diet. Optimism is usually defined as a general expectation that good things will happen, or that the future will be favourable because one has control over one’s actions, according to the researchers.
Pessimists would probably say that this study shows no causal relationship, and they would be right about that, but this is just one of many studies linking optimism to longevity.
“We know that optimistic people generally have a lower risk of chronic illness and premature death,” says team member Lewina Lee, a clinical research psychologist with the VA Boston Healthcare System and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. However, Lee adds that researchers don’t know exactly how optimism leads to these benefits, or that the opposite may be true: with better health, you’re more optimistic.
One of the most important elements seems to relate to the body’s stress response. Chronic stress can lead to inflammations, which can then cause a lot of diseases, research shows. Lee and others say that optimism reduces stress levels, while pessimism causes chronic stress and can thus indirectly promote poorer health.
Better sleep, healthier heart.
Compared to pessimists, the most optimistic people sleep better and for longer. They are also less likely to feel tired during the day and are 74% less likely to experience symptoms of insomnia, according to a study in Behavioural Medicine, which involved more than 3,500 people aged 32 to 51.
The researchers do not know exactly how optimism affects sleep quality, which in turn is linked to better health, but author, Rosalba Hernandez, and professor at the University of Illinois, offers this hypothesis: “Optimists are more likely to use active, problem-oriented techniques and to interpret stressful events in a positive way, reducing anxiety before they fall asleep and throughout the sleep cycle”.
“The most optimistic older women were 38% less likely to die of heart disease than the least optimistic women.”
Also, a 2015 study showed that the most optimistic people aged 45 to 84 are twice as likely to have a healthy heart, compared to the least optimistic group. The study measured characteristics such as diet, exercise, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Last year, researchers linked good heart health to optimism by reviewing a number of existing studies, one of which showed that the most optimistic women were 38% less likely to die from heart disease than the least optimistic women. This review, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also pointed out that optimists are more likely to have healthy habits, including good eating habits and regular exercise, and are more likely to have a healthy body weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol level.