Optimistic woman is more likely to celebrate their 100th birthday

Optimistic Women More Likely to Live Past 90

Optimistic Women More Likely to Live Past 90

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Ever been skeptical about the power of positive thinking? Skeptic no longer—if you want to live longer, that is! Turns out that focusing on the good things really is the recipe for a longer life. A new study from Harvard University, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that higher levels of optimism were positively associated with longer lifespan, with the most optimistic women even living past 90 years old across a variety of racial and ethnic groups.

This study included over 150,000 postmenopausal women across a variety of diverse socio-economic and ethnic groups in the United States. These women, aged 50-79, enrolled in the study from 1993-1998 and were followed for a period of up to 26 years. The results of this study found that the 25% of subjects who were the most optimistic were more likely to have a 5.4% longer lifespan, and a 10% greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years of age compared to the 25% who were the least optimistic.

The authors noted that while social structure factors can affect optimism, there is still reason to look on the bright side of life, regardless of these factors, finding that being optimistic is scientifically significant for longer lifespan and overall longevity. According to Hayami Koga, a PhD candidate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this new research concluded that "There's value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups."

Do optimistic women live longer?

It's undeniable that physical health and mental health work together to make up overall health and also play roles in healthy aging, but you probably don't think of a sunny disposition first when you think about making it to your 90th birthday. But perhaps you should take more stock in the happiness factor, as research does indicate that women who are optimistic are more likely to live longer, and optimism has even been associated with exceptional longevity.

And while the recent research was focused on the United States, it turns out it's not the only place where positivity makes a difference! In one study of siblings that included 20 pairs and 2 trios from four countries in Europe (Italy, Finland, Ireland and Poland) who all lived past 90 in good health, researchers sought to figure out what factors contributed to this remarkable combination of longevity and health span.

Among these subjects, the most universal finding was that those over 90 exhibited a high positivity rate, and possessed good resilience and coping mechanisms for addressing and dealing with negativity.

These nonagenarians were also supported in their social networks, and reported being "never melancholy" as well as being happy and cheerful. They also appeared to have strong family relationships (reinforcing the support of social networks) and reinforcing the fact that life satisfaction comes from perceived optimism. Finally, it was found that those siblings who lived to be over 90 were loyal to each other, and got along well, but were not overly dependent on each other. Happiness (and long life) really can come from within!

How much longer on average do the most optimistic women live?

The research from Harvard noted that women who were the most optimistic were 10% more likely to celebrate their 90th birthday than the least optimistic. Based on total demographics, however, the highest vs. lowest optimism quartile in the Women's Health Initiative study is broken down as follows:

  • Overall – Associated with 5.4% longer lifespan
  • White women – 5.1% longer lifespan
  • Black women – 7.6% longer lifespan
  • Hispanic/Latina women – 5.4% longer lifespan
  • Asian women – 1.5% longer lifespan

This data shows that Black women have the highest longevity rates (at 7.6%) compared to other demographics specifically when optimism is brought into play. The link between optimism and longevity among Black women also found a positive correlation in the Jackson Heart Study, a study that examined the association between optimism and mortality rate in African Americans. The research concluded that higher optimism in African-American subjects was associated with a 15% lower mortality rate.

Both sets of data are especially significant, because until recently, the majority of studies on optimism and longevity were only conducted among non-Hispanic White populations, and were more limiting in reporting results. The study reported by Harvard included a broader study group, accounting for more diversity in the research.

Koga noted how important including diverse populations is to understanding healthy longevity, noting that "This research is crucial to public health as these racial and ethnic groups have higher mortality rates than White population, and thus far, there has been limited research about them to help inform health policy decisions." These statistics are a turning point in better understanding the role optimism plays across a myriad of diverse factors when it comes to living a long life.

Why is optimism important?

Whether you're a lifelong optimist or serial pessimist, there's no doubt that life comes with various stressors that can affect our moods and our health. And although the glass can't always be half full, if left unchecked, unmanaged stress can cause a variety of health concerns, with premature aging and feeling older topping the list. While you don't have to be singing "Here Comes the Sun" morning, noon, and night, the power of positive thinking and focusing on the good in life is more influential than you think. Beyond living longer, optimism is pivotal in not only living a long life, but living a healthy and fulfilled one. You also may think that this optimism-lifespan association may be due to other factors. Perhaps optimistic women who eat healthier diets or exercise more. However, the Harvard study concluded that common lifestyle factors, like regular exercise and healthy eating accounted for less than a quarter of the optimism-lifespan association across all demographics.

This association was also exhibited in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. While adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, it was found that in both Black and White participants, optimism was associated with better cardiovascular health across all time points over 10 years of follow up and that optimism may contribute to establishing future patterns of cardiovascular health in adulthood. This is a positive sign that optimism can positively affect other aspects of health.

This information about positive longevity factors like optimism can complement ongoing public health efforts to reduce overall health disparities, which have traditionally focused primarily on risk factors. "We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health. It is also important to think about the positive resources such as optimism that may be beneficial to our health," Kong advised, "Especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups."

How to live a longer life: Longevity hacks

Maintaining a positive outlook and optimism are undeniably large parts of the equation when it comes to living a long life, but there are other factors and lifestyle choices that come into play to ensure not only healthy lifespan, but healthy quality of life. These factors include:

  • A healthy diet

    —It has always been important to maintain a healthy diet to benefit overall health. While the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables along with healthy fats and whole grains, is known for its health benefits, the Japanese diet is also a great option, with adherence to this diet being associated with a longer lifespan. The DASH diet is also a good option and has been linked to slower aging. Also remember to avoid excessive alcohol use, as that can contribute to premature aging, with the potential to worsen health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and mood disorders.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

    —Keeping the number on the scale in a healthy range with a combo of diet and exercise is a large aspect of staying healthy.
  • Nutrients

    —Targeted nutrients can also help support your longevity efforts. These nutrients include:
    • Nicotinamide riboside: A precursor of NAD+, and a form of vitamin B3 that can fight general fatigue, support cellular energy production, and even contribute to anti-aging.
    • Resveratrol: Skip the wine! Resveratrol has potent anti-aging properties, including fighting free radicals and mimicking calorie restricting diets that are key to longevity.
    • Curcumin: The golden spice is knowing for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and with that, its ability to benefit whole-body health. Working to keep your joints and your brain healthy, it's a no brainer that this extract will keep you as young as you feel.
  • Managing stress

    —Keeping stress at bay is crucial to living a long and healthy life. There's even evidence that managing stress can "un-gray" your hair! And who wouldn't feel optimistic about that?



About Our Story Sources

The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.