Optimism is not associated with two indicators of DNA methylation aging

Aging (Albany NY). 2019 Jul 18;11(14):4970-4989. doi: 10.18632/aging.102090.


Evidence indicates associations between higher optimism and reduced risk of age-related conditions and premature mortality. This suggests optimism is a positive health asset, but research identifying potential biological mechanisms underlying these associations remains limited. One potential pathway is slower cellular aging, which may delay age-related deterioration in health. Data were from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) (N=3,298) and the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study (NAS) (N=514), and included dispositional and explanatory style optimism measures. We evaluated whether higher optimism was associated with metrics suggestive of less cellular aging, as indicated by two DNA methylation algorithms, intrinsic (IEAA) and extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (EEAA); these algorithms represent accelerated biologic aging that exceeds chronological age. We used linear regression models to test our hypothesis while considering several covariates (sociodemographics, depressive symptoms, health behaviors). In both cohorts, we found consistently null associations of all measures of optimism with both measures of DNA methylation aging, regardless of covariates considered. For example, in fully-adjusted models, dispositional optimism was not associated with either IEAA (WHI:β=0.02; 95% Confidence Interval [CI]:-0.15-0.20; NAS:β=-0.06; 95% CI:-0.56-0.44) or EEAA (WHI:β=-0.04; 95% CI: -0.26-0.17; NAS:β=-0.17; 95% CI: -0.80-0.46). Higher optimism was not associated with reduced cellular aging as measured in this study.

Keywords: DNA methylation; epigenetics; health psychology; healthy aging; optimism; psychological well-being.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Algorithms
  • DNA Methylation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Optimism*