Some people approach their golden years with anticipation; others with dread. According to several studies, a positive outlook is associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease or from any cause. But those studies have not always taken into consideration all of the variables that can affect cardiovascular and overall health.

In a study published in the February 27, 2006 Archives of Internal Medicine , researchers report that older adults who had the most positive expectations about their futures were significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease over the next 15 years compared to their least optimistic peers. The effect of optimism was independent of other cardiovascular risk factors, including depression .

About the Study

The researchers recruited 545 men, aged 64 to 84 years, who did not have cardiovascular disease. They assessed the men’s level of optimism by asking how strongly they agreed with four statements that ranged from “I still expect much from life” to “I do not look forward to what lies ahead for me in the years to come.” Levels of optimism were measured at the beginning of the study and then every five years during the 15-year follow-up period. The researchers also collected medical and sociodemographic data on the study participants and assessed their level of depression.

Compared with the least optimistic men, the most optimistic men were 55% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease during the study’s 15-year follow-up period. This was true even after the researchers took other cardiovascular risk factors such as body mass index, cholesterol levels, and depression into consideration. Although overall levels of optimism decreased as the study subjects got older, individual levels of optimism remained relatively stable over time.

How Does This Affect You?

This study adds to the growing evidence that an optimistic disposition is linked to better health. Older adults who saw the glass half full were significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than their glass-half-empty counterparts.

Not everyone is inherently optimistic. And it is not clear whether someone who makes efforts to see a brighter future will enjoy the same health benefits as someone who is simply born with a rosy outlook on life. At a minimum, an optimistic attitude can certainly improve the quality of life for anyone—healthy or not.