Friday, July 7, 2017

Optimism may boost women's longevity

The following is partly taken from the MNT Knowledge Center on an article on Optimism and Women written by Honor Whiteman in December 2016. For the full article go here.

Is the glass half full or is it half empty? The answer to this question may not seem to be a matter of life or death, but for women, it could be. New research suggests women who have a positive outlook on life are less likely to die prematurely than those who are less optimistic. A number of studies  have suggested that people who are optimistic tend to have better mental and physical health than those who are pessimistic

As it is commonly understood, the term ‘optimism’ embraces two closely correlated concepts: the first is the inclination to hope, while the second more generally refers to the tendency to believe that we live in “the best of all possible worlds”, as coined by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his famous theodicy, ridiculed in Voltaire’s Candide.

Optimism is a tendency to expect good things in the future. From the literature, it is apparent that optimism is a mental attitude that heavily influences physical and mental health, as well as coping with everyday social and working life. Through an adaptive management of personal goals and development and by using active coping tactics, optimists are significantly more successful than pessimists in aversive events and when important life-goals are impaired.

To reach their findings, the researchers analysed 2004-2012 data from around 70,000 women who were part of the Nurses' Health Study - an ongoing project that assesses women's health through surveys conducted every 2 years.

Kim and colleagues looked at the self-reported optimism of each participant, as well as other factors that might contribute to mortality risks, such as high blood pressure, diet, and exercise.

Compared with women in the lowest quartile of optimism, those in the highest quartile of optimism were found to be nearly 30 percent less likely to die from all causes.

Looking at individual illnesses, the researchers found that women who were the most optimistic were 16 percent less likely to die from cancer, 38 percent less likely to die from heart disease, and 39 percent less likely to die from stroke, compared with women who were the least optimistic.

Additionally, women in the top quartile of optimism were at 38 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease and were 52 percent less likely to die from infection, compared with those in the bottom quartile.

The researchers note that previous studies have linked optimism to reduced risk of cardiovascular death, but theirs is the first to associate the mental attitude with reduced mortality from other major illnesses.

When accounting for healthy behaviours among participants, the team found that these could only partly explain the association between optimism and reduced mortality. With this in mind, Kim suggests it is possible that optimism may have a direct influence on our biological systems

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