Study: Aging Attitudes Impact Longevity

ByABC News
July 26, 2002, 12:57 PM

July 29 -- If you look forward to aging with the same enthusiasm with which you anticipate root canals, you may want to consider making an attitude adjustment.

That's because new research suggests having more positive thoughts about getting older may help you live a longer life.

A study of 660 adults aged 50 and older from an Ohio community, published in the August issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that people who had positive attitudes about aging lived more than seven years longer than those with negative attitudes.

What's more, the effect of a positive attitude seemed to outweigh other known influences on survival such as loneliness, gender, tobacco use and even exercise.

"It is a strong finding [even] when these other factors are taken into account," explains Becca Levy, lead author and assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The Effect of Attitude

While the results remain to be proven by other researchers, the study does match up with other research findings indicating links between positive outlook and good health.

For example, depression has been linked to poorer recovery from heart attacks and stroke, and research has found that having a positive outlook in general in your early 20s predicts survival well into your 80s and 90s.

Yet until now, no one has specifically examined the effect of how attitudes on growing older might impact mortality. Among the negative ideas held about aging are that older people are less competent, vital and able than they were when they were young.

"There is a view that aging is associated with frailty, decrepitude and disability. And many people confuse aging with diseases," explains Dr. Richard Suzman, associate director for behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md.

Individuals may begin internalizing these less positive views years before actually aging. "People have this overall image of what the aging process [will be] like. You see these expectations of how they are going to do over time," says Levy.