How looking on the bright side of life could help women slow age related decline

Apr 05, 2024
Could a positive outlook hold the key to greater the health and well-being? Source: Getty Images.

The iconic Monty Python comedy troupe famously encouraged us to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and it seems their wisdom may hold true, with recent research indicating that embracing optimism could be the key to unlocking better health.

To explore the correlation between optimism and well-being, a team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health embarked on a thorough study involving a varied group of 5930 postmenopausal women.

During the study, the researchers assessed the participants’ grip strength, walking pace, and their ability to rise from a chair, while also gauging their level of optimism.

This process was repeated four times over six years for each participant, with the research team analysing the collected data to identify any discernible trends or patterns.

Their findings revealed that higher levels of optimism were positively associated with increased grip strength and the ability to perform chair stands, although no significant correlation was found with the time taken to walk a distance of 6 metres.

Additionally, baseline levels of optimism were linked to the maintenance of healthier functioning over time, notably demonstrating less decline in walking speed and the number of chair stands performed by the women throughout the six-year follow-up period.

“More optimistic individuals may be more likely to stay physically active and have other healthier behaviors—e.g. healthier diet—that may help them maintain physical functioning,” explained Dr. Hayami Koga, one of the paper’s authors, in an interview with Newsweek.

“There may also be some neurobiological reasons.

“For example, those with higher optimism may have healthier lipid, immune, or autonomic functioning that may lead to better physical functioning over time.”

In addition to improving overall well-being, a positive attitude has been shown to boost cognitive health. 

According to a recent study by Yale School of Public Health, older adults experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a common type of memory loss, were 30 per cent more likely to regain normal cognition if they held positive beliefs about ageing.

In contrast, those who held negative beliefs were less likely to recover. The Role of Positive Age Beliefs in Recovery From Mild Cognitive Impairment Among Older Persons study also revealed that individuals with positive beliefs were able to recover their cognition up to two years earlier than those with negative beliefs, regardless of the severity of their MCI.

As part of their study, researchers recruited 1,716 participants from the Health and Retirement Study, a national longitudinal survey, with an average age of 78 years who either had MCI or normal cognition at the study’s commencement.

The participants were then divided into two groups based on their responses to a positive age-belief measure, which included agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as “the older I get, the more useless I feel.”

After analysing the data, the scientists observed that older adults in the positive age-belief group who had MCI at the study’s onset were 30.2 per cent more likely to recover from cognitive impairment compared to those in the negative belief group. This effect was independent of MCI severity.

Given recent findings, it appears embracing optimism emerges as not only a key to unlocking better health but also a gateway to a brighter, more resilient future for both body and mind.

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