Be positive, stay young: The secret to healthy aging may be optimism

BOSTON, Mass. — Looking on the bright side of life may actually help you age more gracefully, a new study says. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine looked at how optimism impacts a person’s health and found that staying positive helps people interpret stressful situations differently.

In a study of older men, the team reveals that being more or less optimistic did not make a difference in how the participants reacted to stressors but having more optimism did lead to more emotional well-being. More optimistic men also experienced fewer stressful situations and interpreted fewer events as being stressful to them personally.

“This study tests one possible explanation, assessing if more optimistic people handle daily stress more constructively and therefore enjoy better emotional well-being,” says corresponding author Lewina Lee, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the VA Boston Healthcare System, in a university release.

Don’t worry, be happy

The team examined 233 older men over the course of 14 years. The participants first completed an optimism questionnaire before reporting on their daily stressors over the years. The men also kept track of their positive and negative moods for eight straight nights on three different occasions over eight years during the study. Results show more optimistic men reported fewer instances of being in a bad mood and had fewer stressors during the experiment.

Previous research shows that stress can have a severe impact on a person’s health. Studies connect stress to higher levels of inflammation, which in turn can contribute to aging more rapidly and even the onset of diseases like dementia.

Study authors say there’s evidence that optimism can help promote good health and a longer lifespan. However, few studies have actually looked at how keeping a positive mindset accomplishes this.

Stress, on the other hand, is known to have a negative impact on our health. By looking at whether optimistic people handle day-to-day stressors differently, our findings add to knowledge about how optimism may promote good health as people age,” says Lee.

The findings appear online in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

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