It’s true: happiness helps us live longer. But what about seniors facing years of gradual decline in health? A new study published in Psychosomatic Medicine says that seniors who maintain a positive outlook despite increasing health problems can reduce—and even reverse—health risks. And this certainly isn’t the only research outlining the powers of positivity and optimism.
“Older adults can be taught through counseling or therapy to engage in self-protective thoughts like staying positive when it comes to their own health,” says co-author Carsten Wrosch. “That means a better quality of life, both physically and mentally, something we all want at any age.”
Stress, Negativity, and Self-Blame Accelerate Aging
Wrosch and his team observed 122 senior citizens for the Centre for Research in Human Development study. The participants answered questionnaires determining individual usage of strategies designed to protect them from stress, negativity, and self-blame—all emotional threats to health that increase stress hormones and inflammatory biomarkers.
“Even if my health is in very difficult condition, I can find something positive in life,” and “When I find it impossible to overcome a health problem, I try not to blame myself,” were among the questions in the inquiry. Participants were also asked to measure their loneliness and isolation.
Aside from questionnaires, researchers obtained the seniors’ stress information by examining cortisol and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in saliva and blood samples. Both are indicators of stress (which is inflammatory) and related illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Even mild anxiety and depression raise chances of early death—and not just for seniors—either through inflammation-related diseases or risky behavior. High stress levels raise this risk by 50 percent.
Results of the study indicate that even lonely adults with health problems could lower stress hormones and therefore inflammation with positivity.
Slowing Aging with Positive Thinking
This isn’t the first time that positive thinking and lowered stress levels have been attributed to longevity. Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that chronic anxiety can accelerate aging by shortening telomeres, the DNA-protein complexes whose lengths serves as biomarkers of cells’ biological ages. Meanwhile, an active sex life as well as social interaction and shifts in lifestyle can slow and even reverse the aging process.