Harvard researchers find people with this attitude can add years to their lives

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health factors were often omitted from longevity metrics.

We know how influential diet is to this equation and the same can be said for exercise and sleep quality.

Now a recent paper authored by a team of Harvard researchers pinpoints the dispositions that meaningfully contribute.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences defines optimism as the general expectation that good things will happen because one can control important outcomes.

The study was conducted on 70,000 women over the course of eight years. In that time frame, participants who maintained an optimistic outlook reduced their chances of succumbing to the following conditions:

  • Heart cancer by as much as 16%
  • Heart disease by as much as 38%
  • Respiratory disease by as much as 38%
  • Stroke by as much as 39%
  • Infection by as much a 16%

More broadly, the most positive women featured in the new analysis enjoyed a 30% risk-reduction for all of the diseases listed above.

“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,” Eric Kim, research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-lead author of the study, explained to the Harvard Gazette. “Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges.”

This is important because simply believing things will work out just because is not as predictive as reasoned confidence in one’s role in facilitating this likelihood.

In the midst of a destructive global health crisis, a high-stakes election, and ahead of projected economic instability, there aren’t many reasons to be sanguine, but there is plenty to be optimistic about.

Maria Popova once famously said that critical thinking without hope is cynicism and hope without critical thinking is naïveté. The application is heightened when either side is staffed by compelling motivators.

In other words, in an era when burying our head in the sand is uniquely tempting, the decision not to do so is uniquely rewarding.

“It seems to have the most effect on cardiovascular outcomes and the smallest effect on cancer outcomes,” Kim continued.” What’s more, an optimistic outlook on life may bring about lower lipid levels, less inflammation, and higher antioxidant levels.”

So you think about your different domains of life whether it’s your personal relationship, your spouse, your career, your friendships, and in each of those domains you think about the best possible outcome.”

Registered dietitian and founder of The Wellnecessities, Lisa Hayim seconding these findings in a recent sitdown with regarding longevity science.

“When it comes to research on any topic, there are always going to be different schools of thought. But the interesting thing about longevity research is that we’re working with an outlier population.  Those who live to be 100 are a small population so it may be easier to extract variables that overlap. It seems some factors are a result of genes. When it comes to things we can do, some big factors include not smoking, eating lots of vegetables, and daily movement,” Dr. Hayim concluded. Stress management doesn’t have to look like meditation or squeezing a stress ball at your desk. It has to do with building in stress-free activities into our usually crammed with work lifestyle.  Think about community events, doing things for pure joy, or simply putting your cell-phone down for periods of time.”


One suggestion Kim offered to CBS Boston as to how people can think more positively: envision your “best possible self.”

“So you think about your different domains of life whether it’s your personal relationship, your spouse, your career, your friendships, and in each of those domains you think about the best possible outcome,” he said.