A new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University says health benefits of optimism include longer lives and stronger immune systems. It found that women who had an optimistic outlook were less likely to die from several causes, including heart disease, cancer, and infection. Prior research has shown the direct correlation between positing thinking and a lower risk of dying from heart disease, but this is the first time optimism has been proven to be associated with the prevention of death from other major illnesses.
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Researchers acquired results for this study by analyzing data from more than 70,000 women enrolled in the nationwide Nurses’ Health Study. Participants answered a group of survey questions about their health and mental state, and allowed themselves to be monitored for roughly eight years.
During this period, women who ranked in the top quarter for optimism had a 29 percent lower risk of dying from any cause during the follow-up period, compared with those in the bottom quarter. According to the study, women who had positive outlooks had a 52 percent lower risk of dying from infection, a 39 percent lower risk of dying from stroke, a 38 percent lower risk of dying from heart or respiratory disease, and a 16 percent lower risk of dying from cancer.
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Researchers made a point of controlling the study for factors such as pre-existing health conditions, which may have already affected a participant’s life expectancy, depression, and health behaviors. Still, the most optimistic women proved to have a 9 percent reduced risk of dying compared to the least optimistic.
"While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases,” Dr. Eric Kim, PhD, co-lead author and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains in this Health.com piece. He continues, “Evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference. Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges."
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