Saturday science subject: Look on the bright side of life

Could seeing your life in an optimistic light actually help prolong it? That's a question raised by a new study, which links optimism to lower risks of heart disease and longer life spans. Scientific American has more:

Researchers led by Hilary Tindle, an internist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, analyzed eight years of data on 97,253 women, age 50 and over, participating in the Women's Health Initiative, a 15-year study launched in 1991 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their findings, released this week at a conference of the American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago: the women who were most cheery were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 14 percent less likely than their pessimistic peers to die from all causes during the study period. The results were even more striking among black women; the optimists among them were 38 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 33 percent less likely to die from all causes.

Correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation, of course, and Scientific American warns that the study doesn't show a "cause-and-effect relationship . . . between optimism and health outcomes." Nevertheless, Hilary Tindle points out that cheerier folks tend to be slimmer, more physically active, less likely to smoke, and more heedful of medical advice in general. Also, "good social networks and strong social relationships" could help them deal with stress better than their more introverted peers.

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