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Study: Optimism May Lead to Better Health Outcomes

Updated: May 24

Are you optimistic about your life prospects and your health? It turns out that taking a “cup-half-full” approach may make a difference to your health.


Researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that post-menopausal women’s age-related physical decline may be slowed by keeping an optimistic attitude. The study, “Longitudinal Associations Between Optimism and Objective Measures of Physical Functioning in Women,” was published in JAMA Psychiatry on March 20, 2024.


The cohort study, which included 5,930 postmenopausal women, noted that higher levels of optimism were common on women who did well on two performance measures—the number of times that the women could stand up from a chair without using their hands during a 15-second trial as well as the test of grip strength. The optimistic older women also experienced slower rates of decline at the six-year follow-up in the standing from the chair test as well as their walking speed.


The Harvard research team, led by Dr. Hayami Koga, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, offered several hypotheses for this difference, including optimism’s role in maintaining a healthier diet, more physical activity and engagement in social activities. Additionally, increased optimism may ease inflammation of stress on the body and promote healthier lipid, immune, and autonomic functioning.


Some may question the link between a positive mindset and health, but there is a body of evidence that suggests a linkage. For example, Dr. Scott Lear, a leading researcher in the prevention and management of heart disease, wrote a 2020 column for Canada’s Heart and Stroke that describes a review of 15 studies with over 200,000 participants. The review suggests that optimists have a 35% lower chance of developing heart disease, a 14% lower chance of early death, and better results following surgery with fewer complications requiring hospital readmission. Lear notes that some of these findings may be due to enhanced coping skills.


As I Start Wondering noted in our most recent research post about when “old age” starts, mindset can play a significant part in quality of life. Our team encourages all older women to look closely at where they might be creating self-imposed pessimistic barriers and find ways to begin to embrace a more optimistic viewpoint.


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