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  • Writer's pictureJohn Seivert

Optimism and Mortality

Last month I wrote about stress and how it affects our bodies and mortality rates. There are beneficial effects that stress has on our bodies if we believe that stress is good for you. On this same theme, there has been extensive research on how optimism can affect mortality rates, as well.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine knew that optimistic people are less likely to suffer from chronic disease and depression. Now there is evidence to show that being optimistic can increase longevity. They are not just living longer but living longer with fewer health issues. The head researcher of this study stated that optimism can even be learned.

The study took place from 2004 till 2012, surveying 70,021 nurses. One of the six key survey questions in the study was, "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best." The responses were tallied, and it turned out those who were the most optimistic lived 15% longer lives than the less optimistic. Surprisingly, their odds of living to 85 or longer increased by as much as 70%. They think optimistic people tend to have goals in life. They are more educated, have a significant other in their life who has higher education, they stay active more than the less optimistic group, and they choose healthier foods, and avoid risky behaviors. Most importantly, it is only apparent that if you do these things, you will have less chance of having hypertension, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes and lower chances of having depression.

The researchers believe that optimistic people regulate daily stresses better than less optimistic. For example, when they get into an angry confrontation, they can come down more quickly and feel calmer, more relaxed in a shorter time compared to the person that stays agitated and angry for a more extended time.

I see examples of this in my clinic regularly. The optimistic patients with pain tend to get through rehab quicker and with fewer flare-ups during their time in physical therapy. These are the patients that have extensive findings on their imaging studies (x-rays and MRIs) and brush it off as a normal part of aging and tell my staff and me, and they are not going to let that get in the way of their goals. They have things to do, places to go, and kids or grandkids to enjoy.

A 60-year-old male patient with a back injury from a mountain bike crash said, "Shouldn't I have a spine of an 80-year-old if I was a construction worker for 35 years?"

I responded, "Absolutely, it shows you have had some good honest work and fun in your life."

Treating people with optimism is quite fun and rewarding to get them back on track. However, I think all physical therapists find great satisfaction in helping those that are less optimistic, in despair, and feel stuck. Helping the ones that need it most is a big part of what we do. We empower our patients to get back to doing the things they love to do.

If you are an optimistic person and can manage many of life's challenges, then "good on ya," and keep up the good work. However, If you feel like your body is letting you down and you have pain, weakness, or unable to exercise the way you want to, you may need a physical therapist. Call your PT today and get back to enjoying your life to the fullest. Moreover, thinking optimistic thoughts will help you achieve your goals.

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