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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Sep 10;116(37):18357-18362. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1900712116. Epub 2019 Aug 26.

Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women.

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National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA 02130;
Department of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118.
Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, MA 02215.
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115.
Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115.
Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiology Research and Information Center, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA 02130.
Department of Epidemiology, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02118.
Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115.
Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115.


Most research on exceptional longevity has investigated biomedical factors associated with survival, but recent work suggests nonbiological factors are also important. Thus, we tested whether higher optimism was associated with longer life span and greater likelihood of exceptional longevity. Data are from 2 cohorts, women from the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and men from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study (NAS), with follow-up of 10 y (2004 to 2014) and 30 y (1986 to 2016), respectively. Optimism was assessed using the Life Orientation Test-Revised in NHS and the Revised Optimism-Pessimism Scale from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 in NAS. Exceptional longevity was defined as survival to age 85 or older. Primary analyses used accelerated failure time models to assess differences in life span associated with optimism; models adjusted for demographic confounders and health conditions, and subsequently considered the role of health behaviors. Further analyses used logistic regression to evaluate the likelihood of exceptional longevity. In both sexes, we found a dose-dependent association of higher optimism levels at baseline with increased longevity (P trend < 0.01). For example, adjusting for demographics and health conditions, women in the highest versus lowest optimism quartile had 14.9% (95% confidence interval, 11.9 to 18.0) longer life span. Findings were similar in men. Participants with highest versus lowest optimism levels had 1.5 (women) and 1.7 (men) greater odds of surviving to age 85; these relationships were maintained after adjusting for health behaviors. Given work indicating optimism is modifiable, these findings suggest optimism may provide a valuable target to test for strategies to promote longevity.


aging; longevity; longitudinal study; optimism; psychological well-being

[Available on 2020-02-26]

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest statement: E.S.K. has worked as a consultant with AARP and United Health Group.

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