A multitude of factors contribute to longevity, like diet and activity level. Research is packing weight to evidence that positivity does more than make life more pleasant, however; it makes it longer.
A Yale School of Public Health study found older individuals with positive attitudes about aging experienced a lower likelihood of suffering from—or a greater chance of recovering from—disabilities and sickness.
Positive or Negative Associations with Age Add (or Subtract) Years of Life
Every month, researchers interviewed the same 598 people of at least 70 years of age (the average age being 79) who, at the beginning of the study, had no disabilities. (Being free of disabilities constituted four activities for this study: bathing, dressing, moving from a chair, and walking.)
Participants were asked for five terms or phrases they believed described the elderly, which the researchers then graphed on a five-point scale. In example, the negative descriptor, “decrepit,” scored 1 on the scale, while a positive descriptor like “spry” scored a 5. This continued for up to 129 months in addition to each participant filling out home-based assessments every 18 months for 10 years.
Compiled evidence suggested that positive associations with aging allowed people to live more independently in later years.
Thoughts can Help Reduce and Reverse Health Risks
“This result suggests that how the old view their aging process could have an effect on how they experience it,” says lead researcher Becca R. Levy. “In previous studies, we have found that older individuals with positive age stereotypes tend to show lower cardiovascular response to stress and they tend to engage in healthier activities, which may help to explain our current findings.”
This isn’t Levy’s first foray into the subject; she published another study in 2002 showing that people with positive outlooks on aging lived on average 7.6 years longer than their more pessimistic counterparts. Earlier this year, the journal Psychosomatic Medicine published a study indicating that a positive outlook could help reduce and even reverse increasing health risks inherent in older age.
Evidence Piling Up
The idea of the metaphysical influencing the physical is nothing new but has until recently been assumed to be the stuff of hocus pocus and quackery. It seems hardly like the National Institutes of Health to throw $9.5 million on quackery, though. The study in question involved 756 participants in three studies showing the positive thoughts and health affirmations helped create behavioral changes and physical transformation.
Even if you’re not convinced, what’s the hurt in a little smile?