A study presented at the March 5, 2009 annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society found a strong correlation between optimism and a reduced risk for cancer-related death, heart disease and early death.
The study involved more than 100,000 women over the age of 50. They were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to measure optimistic tendencies based on responses to statements like "In uncertain times, I expect the worst," or "It's safest to trust nobody."
Lead researcher Dr. Hilary Tindle of the University of Pittsburgh and her team then analyzed the women's rates of death and chronic health conditions.
Eight years into the study, the researchers found optimistic women were 14 percent more likely to be alive than their pessimistic peers. Also, optimistic women were 30 percent less likely to die from heart disease and less likely to smoke cigarettes or suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.
"They are less likely to smoke, they are more likely to be active and they are more likely to have a lower BMI [body mass index]. All of these are risk factors that certainly matter for length of life and health," Tindle said.
Other factors include the facts that optimistic people have more friends they can rely on during crises and they also tend to cope better on their own with stress. It's not clear how optimists manage stress so well, but it may have something to do with their physiological makeup - genes and metabolic processes that keep them optimistic during troubling times.