When you think about the future, do you expect good or bad things to happen?
If you weigh in on the “good” side, you’re an optimist. And that has positive implications for your health in later life.
Multiple studies show a strong association between higher levels of optimism and a reduced risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and cognitive impairment. Several studies have also linked optimism with greater longevity.
One of the latest, published this year, comes from researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with colleagues at other universities. It found that older women who scored highest on measures of optimism lived 4.4 years longer, on average, than those with the lowest scores. Results held true across races and ethnicities.
Why would optimism make such a difference?
Experts advance various explanations: People who are optimistic cope better with the challenges of daily life and are less likely to experience stress than people with less positive attitudes. They’re more likely to eat well and exercise, and they often have stronger networks of family and friends who can provide assistance.
Also, people who are optimistic tend to engage more effectively in problem-solving strategies and to be better at regulating their emotions.
Of course, a feedback loop is at play here: People may be more likely to experience optimism if they enjoy good health and a good quality of life. But optimism isn’t confined to those who are doing well. Studies suggest that it is a genetically he …