Optimism and Healthy Aging in Women and Men

Am J Epidemiol. 2019 Jun 1;188(6):1084-1091. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwz056.


Mounting evidence indicates that there are specific associations between higher levels of optimism and healthier behaviors, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and lower mortality. Yet, for public health purposes, it is critical to consider how optimism might be related to a full scope of health conditions in aging-from cognitive to physical health. Using prospective data from the Health and Retirement Study (n = 5,698), we examined whether higher baseline optimism was associated with subsequent increased likelihood of maintaining healthy aging over 6-8 years of follow-up. Optimism was assessed at study baseline (2006 or 2008), and components of healthy aging were assessed every 2 years, defined as: 1) remaining free of major chronic diseases; 2) having no cognitive impairment; and 3) good physical functioning. Hazard ratios were obtained using Cox proportional hazards models, and a range of relevant covariates were considered (sociodemographic factors, depressive symptoms, and health behaviors). After adjusting for sociodemographic factors and depression, the most (top quartile) versus least (bottom quartile) optimistic participants had a 24% increased likelihood of maintaining healthy aging (95% CI: 1.11, 1.38). Further adjustment for health behaviors did not meaningfully change the findings. Optimism, a potentially modifiable health asset, merits further research for its potential to improve likelihood of health in aging.

Keywords: chronic disease; cognitive function; health psychology; healthy aging; optimism; physical function; psychological well-being; resilience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Healthy Aging / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Optimism / psychology*
  • Physical Functional Performance
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors