Growing evidence has linked positive psychological attributes like optimism to a lower risk of poor health outcomes, especially cardiovascular disease. It has been demonstrated in randomized trials that optimism can be learned. If associations between optimism and broader health outcomes are established, it may lead to novel interventions that improve public health and longevity. In the present study, we evaluated the association between optimism and cause-specific mortality in women after considering the role of potential confounding (sociodemographic characteristics, depression) and intermediary (health behaviors, health conditions) variables. We used prospective data from the Nurses' Health Study (n = 70,021). Dispositional optimism was measured in 2004; all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates were assessed from 2006 to 2012. Using Cox proportional hazard models, we found that a higher degree of optimism was associated with a lower mortality risk. After adjustment for sociodemographic confounders, compared with women in the lowest quartile of optimism, women in the highest quartile had a hazard ratio of 0.71 (95% confidence interval: 0.66, 0.76) for all-cause mortality. Adding health behaviors, health conditions, and depression attenuated but did not eliminate the associations (hazard ratio = 0.91, 95% confidence interval: 0.85, 0.97). Associations were maintained for various causes of death, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection. Given that optimism was associated with numerous causes of mortality, it may provide a valuable target for new research on strategies to improve health.
Keywords: health psychology; optimism; psychological well-being; resilience.
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