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Why a positive outlook on life and aging is good for your health

Optimism about life and a positive view of aging are both very good for your health.

A positive attitude and resilience to overcome adversity are traits linked to exceptional longevity, according to a 2018 study in International Psychogeriatrics. Women who have a positive outlook on life are less likely to die from cancer, heart disease and stroke than pessimists, reported the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Older adults with an upbeat attitude also develop significantly fewer difficulties with tasks of daily living and mobility problems than their less optimistic peers, according to the Canadian Medical Association of Journal.

Heart-healthy attitude

One striking benefit of optimism is in helping to prevent heart disease and improving outcomes after heart procedures. A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health review of 200 research studies found that optimistic people were 50% less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke. Among patients who had coronary artery bypass surgery, optimists were half as likely to need re-hospitalization as pessimists, according to Harvard. Among angioplasty patients, pessimist were three times more likely than optimists to suffer heart attack or require repeat angioplasties or bypass operations.

Shining a positive light on aging

A positive attitude about aging can also make a big difference to your health. It’s associated with faster recovery from injury or disability, a lower risk of chronic disease and reduced risk of memory loss, according to Dalhousie University in Halifax. A 2018 study by the National Institute on Aging found that among older adults who carried a gene variant—called APOE ɛ4—which increases dementia risk, those with positive beliefs about aging were nearly 50% less likely to develop dementia.

People who view aging in a positive light are also more likely to seek help, including preventive medical care. They experience less isolation and loneliness and make the best of life’s negative experiences. These optimists don’t have a Pollyanna attitude that denies harsh realities, but they are grounded and handle stress better than pessimists, says Dalhousie.

Learning optimism

Fortunately, even people who tend to see the glass as half empty rather than half full can develop an optimistic attitude. Many studies by the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Martin Seligman—considered the father of positive psychology—have shown that people can learn positive thinking skills through practice. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a University of North Carolina psychologist, has demonstrated that fostering brief moments of positivity each day can boost physical and emotional health, and help turn negative thinkers into positive ones.