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Optimism and Healthy Aging in Women

  • Peter James
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Peter James, ScD, Division of Chronic Disease Research Across the Lifecourse (CoRAL), Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Landmark Center 401 Park Drive, Suite 401, Boston MA 02215.
    Affiliations
    Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Eric S. Kim
    Affiliations
    Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

    Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Laura D. Kubzansky
    Affiliations
    Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

    Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Emily S. Zevon
    Affiliations
    Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

    Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald
    Affiliations
    Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

    Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Francine Grodstein
    Affiliations
    Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts

    Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital,Boston, Massachusetts
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      Introduction

      Optimism—the expectation that good things will happen—has emerged as a promising health asset, as it appears to be related to healthier behaviors and reduced disease risk. Growing research finds that higher optimism is associated with lower mortality, yet it is critical to understand whether this prolonged longevity is accompanied by good health. This study tested whether higher optimism was associated with increased likelihood of healthy aging.

      Methods

      Prospective data analyzed in 2018 from the Nurses’ Health Study included 33,326 women with no major chronic diseases at baseline. Poisson regression models evaluated if optimism was associated with healthy aging 8 years later, considering potential confounders (sociodemographic variables, depression) and intermediate variables (health behaviors). Optimism was assessed in 2004 by validated self-report using mailed questionnaires and healthy aging was assessed in 2012, defined as (1) remaining free of major chronic diseases; (2) having no subjective memory impairment; (3) having intact physical function; and (4) surviving through follow-up.

      Results

      Overall, 20.5% of women (n=6,823) fulfilled the definition of healthy aging in 2012. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors and depression, the most (top quartile) versus least (bottom quartile) optimistic women had a 23% greater likelihood of healthy aging (95% CI=1.16, 1.30). Associations were similar in white and black participants, although the sample of black women was small (n=354).

      Conclusions

      Higher optimism was associated with increased likelihood of healthy aging, suggesting that optimism, a potentially modifiable health asset, merits further research for its potential to improve health in aging.
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