Clinical and Research News
To Live Longer, Accentuate The Positive
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 18 page 22-23

It may well be that people who take an upbeat view toward growing older live longer.

That, in any case, is a finding reported by Becca Levy, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Yale University’s department of epidemiology and public health, along with coworkers at Yale, Harvard University, and Miami University, in the August Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Levy and her coworkers used as their subjects 660 persons who were part of the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement. The subjects were between 50 and 94 years of age, with an average age of 63. The subjects were asked questions that revealed their outlook on aging such as "Things keep getting worse as I get older," "As you get older you are less useful," "I am as happy now as I was when I was younger," and "I have as much pep as I did last year." Levy and her colleagues then followed the fate of the 660 subjects over the next 23 years.

After taking into account the age, sex, socioeconomic status, loneliness, and health of their subjects, Levy and her team found that those subjects who had more positive outlooks on aging lived, on average, 7.5 years longer than did those with more negative views. "Our study carries two messages," they concluded: "The discouraging one is that negative self-perceptions can diminish life expectancy; the encouraging one is that positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy."

Levy and her coworkers then conducted a second study on the same subjects to determine whether a more positive view toward aging was due to a will to live. They found that it was part of the reason, but not the entire answer.

If an upbeat view toward growing older truly extends people’s lives by more than an average of seven years, that would be even more impressive than what other longevity promoters seem to be capable of accomplishing. For instance, low blood pressure has been associated with a four-year-longer life span; the same for low levels of blood cholesterol. Not smoking has been found to contribute between one and three years of added life. The same applies to exercising.

The study was funded by the Brookdale Foundation and the National Institute on Aging.

The study, "Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging," is posted at www.apa.org/journals/psp/press_releases/august_2002/psp832261.html.

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