“Optimists are more likely to live longer than those who have a more negative approach to life, a US study has found,” BBC News reported recently. The Mail Online reports on the same study claiming that “Optimists are up to 70% more likely to live to be 85”.
The study used information collected from male war veterans and female nurses taking part in 2 long-running studies in the US. The participants were around 60 to 70 years old when they completed optimism questionnaires, and the researchers looked at whether optimism was linked to living longer.
People who had the highest optimism scores had a lifespan about 9% longer than those with the lowest scores. But despite media reports, the most optimistic were in fact no more likely to live to age 85. The 70% figure came from a result that had not taken account of all influencing factors.
Ultimately this research cannot prove cause and effect. Both optimism and lifespan may be influenced by many hereditary, health, lifestyle and personal factors. People with a good overall standard of health and wellbeing are probably more likely to be optimistic about their future. While researchers attempted to adjust their analysis for these sort of factors, it’s hard to remove their influence fully.
It’s also questionable how applicable the results of these optimism assessments, taken 15 to 30 years ago from very specific groups of older US nurses and war veterans, are to the general UK population.
Nevertheless the research highlights the importance that mental health and wellbeing can have on physical health.