Positive thinking may be powerfully healthy
Lookon the bright side—it could be a lifesaver. That’s the possible takeaway from new research published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found a correlation between a positive outlook and better health in women. But the causality is still up for debate.
Research data came from 70,021 women who were part of a long-term Nurses’ Health Study; the study examined their level of optimism via a 2004 questionnaire. The average age of those surveyed was about 70, with researchers tracking deaths from 2006 to 2012. Of those surveyed, the most optimistic women were 29% less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up, with respective reduced risks for cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infection.
The study’s data are significant because of the research pool size and attention paid to variables, according to Nancy Sin, a health psychologist at Penn State University. Other studies have shown similar results correlating optimism and health—and specifically with cardiovascular health, she told NPR.
Several factors can make this correlation plausible, said Eric Kim, an author of the study and a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Optimistic people are more likely to exhibit healthy behaviors regarding diet, exercise and tobacco use. And they might also have better coping mechanisms, Kim said.
“When they face life challenges, they create contingency plans, plan for future challenges and accept what can’t be changed,” he said.
Optimism might have a direct impact on biological function, Kim added, with examples of better immune function and lower levels of inflammation.
Optimism could have health benefits for older women, the study suggests.