Happy wife, happy life! A positive life partner fosters strong mental health in old age

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Marriages and long-term relationships are rarely ever smooth sailing 100% of the time. A life-long partnership between two people is very much a journey that will inevitably experience peaks and valleys. That being said, as anyone who has been in such a relationship can attest, life is usually a whole lot more enjoyable when our significant other is in a good mood. Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be all that surprised that a new study finds a positive partner will foster good health in their significant other.

Researchers at Michigan State University have concluded that as an individual grows old with a happy life partner, they will see their risk of developing dementia, cognitive decline, or Alzheimer’s disease steadily decline.

“We spend a lot of time with our partners,” comments William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study, in a university release. “They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine. When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life. You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses.”

Living with a particularly optimistic partner makes it easier to lead a healthier lifestyle. The research team say that happier partners are much more likely to support their significant other in self-improvement initiatives, such as quitting smoking or visiting the gym more regularly.

“We found that when you look at the risk factors for what predicts things like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a lot of them are things like living a healthy lifestyle,” Chopik adds. “Maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity are large predictors. There are some physiological markers as well. It looks like people who are married to optimists tend to score better on all of those metrics.”

The study tracked close to 4,500 heterosexual couples, for as long as eight years in some cases. After analyzing the collected data, there was a clear connection between being married to an optimistic person and avoiding dementia or cognitive decline in old age.

“There’s a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead,” Chopik explains. “While there’s some research on people being jealous of their partner’s good qualities or on having bad reactions to someone trying to control you, it is balanced with other research that shows being optimistic is associated with perceiving your relationship in a positive light.”

Interestingly, the study also found that when older couples look back on cherished memories spent together, they tend to remember more intimate details than they may have initially recalled. Chopik cited a recent Super Bowl commercial in which an older gentlemen uses a Google Assistant to help him remember specifics about his late wife.

“The things he was recollecting were positive things about his partner,” Chopik says. “There is science behind the Google ad. Part of the types of memories being recalled were positive aspects of their relationship and personalities.”

Of course, some people are natural optimists, while the rest of us usually take a more pessimistic approach to the world. However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for all the pessimists out there.

“There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change,” Chopik concludes. “Part of it is wanting to change. There are also intervention programs that suggest you can build up optimism.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.

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