The secret to a long, healthy, and fulfilling life may lie more with mindset than diet and exercise, and recent studies have demonstrated that optimists not only sleep better and experience lower levels of stress, but that optimism is more likely to lead to a longer life.
According to a recent Washington Post Health report, people who tend to see the positive side of things often have a greater sense of well-being as well as better cardiovascular health and immune function. In a recent study of 160,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79, those who self-reported as being optimists were more likely than pessimists to live into their 90s.
The average lifespan of women in developed countries is 83 – living into one’s 90s is considered by researchers to be “exceptional longevity”. The study results held firm even after accounting for other factors that influence longevity including education level, economic status, ethnicity, depression, and other chronic health conditions. A similar study that included men also found that people with high levels of optimism lived between 11 and 15 percent longer than pessimists.
Although people who see the cup as half full may also have healthier lifestyles, diet, exercise, and not smoking only account for 24 percent of the association between longevity and optimism. Researchers suggest that one of the explanations for optimists’ longevity may be linked with the way they handle stress, tackling difficult issues directly and reframing situations to look for the “silver lining”. Learning to cope effectively with stress can help prevent damage to the cardiovascular system and immune response from elevated levels of cortisol that are released when we are under stress. Cortisol is floods the body when the fight or flight response is triggered, helping us to think and act quickly, but if this biological reaction that increases heart rate and blood pressure is prolonged, over time it can increase the risk for health problems.
Not a natural optimist? Not to worry. With practice, a more positive mindset can be cultivated. Positive thinking can be learned, but achieving positive outcomes that reinforce optimism takes action. Writing down goals for living your best possible life, and the steps that will help lead you there can help people to develop a more optimistic attitude. Healthy lifestyle choices, including eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise and good sleep, and finding ways to manage stress will also help promote greater longevity. When small steps start to show results, the tendency to be optimistic will grow.
Learn more about creating an optimistic mindset by following this link to MindBodyGreen.