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See Inside February/March 2006

Optimism Prolongs Life

Mounting research shows that optimism could extend your life. The latest study comes from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. For 999 elderly Dutch men and women, agreement with statements such as “I still have many goals to strive for” was highly predictive for longevity. When subjects were traced nine years after being surveyed, death rates of optimistic men were 63 percent lower than those of their pouty peers; for women, optimism reduced the rate by 35 percent.

The Dutch study also begins to map out causality. By controlling for dietary factors, smoking habits, obesity, physical activity and alcohol dependence in participants, researchers isolate optimism's protective influence. Some of that influence drives healthy behavior. “Optimists will try to avoid and escape bad events,” explains Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania not linked to the Dutch team. For example, they are more likely to follow prescribed medical routines.

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