8 ways a cheerful outlook leads to healthy aging

Excerpt: People with a sunny outlook enjoy better mental and physical health, and they are generally more resilient in coping with challenges and setbacks. Studies show that an optimistic attitude helps to protect the heart, reduces stress and anxiety, and boosts immunity. Accentuating the positive is also good for brain health, lifts mood, increases longevity and improves sleep.

People who have a sunny outlook enjoy better mental and physical health, and greater life satisfaction,* according to the National Institutes of Health and a study in Emotion. A positive mindset doesn’t mean people never feel negative emotions, such as sadness or anger, (NIH). But optimists find a healthy balance between positive and negative thoughts and emotions, which helps them bounce back from difficulties faster.*

Researchers believe a cheerful outlook promotes healthy aging in part because positive thinkers are more resilient in dealing with challenges and setbacks,* and their adaptive coping may buffer the effects of stress on their minds, bodies, and psyches,* according to Mayo Clinic. Optimists also tend to lead healthier lifestyles, build better social support networks and are more likely to follow medical advice,* according to Harvard Medical School.

Here are some important ways a cheerful outlook contributes to better physical, emotional, and cognitive health for older adults:

  1. Protect your heart. People with a positive mindset have a 35% lower risk of developing heart disease, according to Heart & Stroke Canada. Among people who have stable heart disease, positive traits like optimism and cheerfulness reduced the chances of a heart attack by nearly 40%.*
  2. Reduces stress and anxiety. Positive thinking and optimism help to manage stress and reduce anxiety.* Fortunately, people can learn positive thinking skills by practicing more positive self-talk—the stream of unspoken thoughts that runs through your mind—and less negative self-talk.*
  3. Boosts immunity. Older adults who focused on positive information more than negative information had stronger immune systems, as indicated by antibodies measured in their blood, and they showed better immune function two years later,* according to a Psychology and Aging study.
  4. Nurtures brain health. Accentuating the positive and reducing repetitive negative thinking lowers the risk of developing dementia,* reported a University College London study. The researchers suggest mindfulness training, meditation and targeted talk therapy can help curb negative thinking and foster a positive mindset. A Psychological Science study found cheerful, enthusiastic people are less likely to experience memory decline as they age.*
  5. Lifts mood and lowers depression risk. Older women with an optimistic outlook had a 27% lower risk developing depression over a 10-year period than those who were less optimistic,* reported a 2022 European Journal of Epidemiology study.
  6. Leads to longer life. Women across different ethnic and racial groups who showed higher optimism were more likely to live beyond 90,* reported a 2022 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study. A Harvard University study found optimistic men and women were up to 70% more likely to live to age 85 or older, and had an 11% longer lifespan.*
  7. Eases chronic pain. Older adults diagnosed with chronic pain, who were positive thinkers, experienced less pain daily than those with a negative outlook, who experienced more severe pain and disability,* reported a Cornell University study.
  8. Improves sleep. Optimistic people slept longer and were about 75% more likely to report good sleep quality and no insomnia,* according to a Behavioral Medicine study.