Longevity. So science wants to defeat old age
by Emanuela Griglié
‘Tutti su’ is the title of the tour that Claudio Baglioni is taking around Italy and is an invitation for all of us to cheer us up. An invitation that we should all welcome and now scientific research provides women with one more reason to do so: always seeing the glass half full, in fact, extends the life of women and improves it so much that doctors are considering optimism a strategy on to aim for disease prevention and increase life expectancy. To bring back the current theme is a study just published on Journal of the American Geriatrics Society conducted by researchers from the Boston School of Public Health.
Growing evidence suggests that a positive attitude towards life is associated with a lower risk of morbidity and mortality. In particular, optimism has consistently been associated with improved health conditions, including exceptional longevity as people adopting this lifestyle approach survive well beyond the average age of the population (81.2 years for women and 76 , 2 years for men).
But the research conducted so far has generally been carried out on non-Hispanic white populations and without distinction of gender. Furthermore, previous studies on the association between optimism and longevity had not always arrived at conclusive hypotheses: “Optimism has generally been considered a mediator of other factors such as a healthier lifestyle including healthy eating, avoiding smoking and alcohol, physical activity and having an active social life “, explains Chiara Ruini, professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Bologna and past president of the Italian Society of Positive Psychology whose national congress is held from 9 to 11 June.
In short, it was not the optimism itself that determined an extension of life but rather its indirect positive effect. In this new study, the researchers analyzed 160,000 women belonging to different ethnic groups including Asians and Africans and above all they analyzed better the link between optimism and longevity.
“The interesting aspect of this research – continues Ruini – is that the direct and indirect effect of optimism on women’s longevity is better evaluated and they have concluded that the attitude one has towards life can really make a difference independently from the lifestyle you follow “.
In fact, the researchers observed that higher levels of optimism are associated with a longer life span and a greater likelihood of living beyond 90 years of age. In particular, it was found that in women with a more positive attitude there was an average increase in life span of 5.4% in the various ethnic subgroups. In 53% of women an exceptional longevity was observed and they lived beyond 90 years and in some cases even exceeded 95 years. “The researchers – adds the psychotherapist – have verified that the impact of lifestyle on the years of life is only 25% and it is the first time that such an analysis has been reached”.
But why does optimism extend life? Given that those who see life in pink tend to take care of their health more and to follow healthier lifestyles, is there more? “Generally – Ruini replies – the optimist has a purpose in life, he acts thinking he is achieving goals and therefore has a temporal perspective that makes him look to the future. This motivates people to live well because they focus on have a long journey ahead while those who are pessimistic, depressed and anxious tend to look more to the past and let themselves go “.
But does optimism and therefore the propensity to be happy depend on genes? Various studies have shown that optimism is a genetic issue, but there is more to it and even those born into a pessimistic family can find their own inner sunshine. In fact, even if there is a genetic component in the regulation of affective tone, a lot also depends on the activities we carry out, on the cognitive style we develop, on the people we hang out with. In short, you can train optimism with various methods such as creative writing or cognitive-behavioral exercises. Precisely for this reason, the newly published study suggests considering optimism a new goal for improving public health.
by Emanuela Griglié
In this particular historical moment, with the pandemic (almost) behind us, the fear of new waves and a war that has been going on for too long, it is more difficult to be carried away by optimism: “Certainly today it is more difficult to be optimistic because there is a sense of alertness and negative expectations. The media do not help people to be calm because they are bombarded with news that is often alarming and not always in a justified way “, underlines Ruini who adds:” But even these days it is not impossible cultivate the seed of optimism perhaps by letting oneself be guided by specific psychological interventions of a cognitive-behavioral matrix. Indeed today more than ever we need to be optimistic because if we really have an uphill road it is better to enjoy the moment and put ourselves in perspective that we can do it even if with difficulty “.
For those who want to try to train at home the positive part that is hidden in themselves, here is a practical exercise: “You need to plan something nice to do: whether it’s the weekend or the holidays, it’s good to make plans but not theoretically. but concrete, to really make them happen because we need to rediscover the desire to get on the track, to meet and savor the beautiful things that we like that have been sacrificed a lot in these two years “, concludes Ruini.
by Luigi Fontana
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