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Mindful : June 2018
RESEARCH The Science of Optimism One of the stron- gest predictors of developing age- related dementia is the presence of a specific gene variant called APOE ε4. Carri- ers are 47% more likely to develop the age-related disease than non- carriers. But there might be an even big- ger predictor of dementia: how you feel about aging. Researchers at Yale University recently discov- ered that people who carr y the gene variant yet who hold posi- tive beliefs about aging are almost 50% less likely to develop dementia than those with negative age beliefs. How is this possible? What does a positive outlook have to do with whether a gene gets expressed or not? Add this question and this exciting new finding to the growing mound of evidence that positive outlook, i.e ., optimism, has demonstrable impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health. For the dementia study, researchers speculate that positive beliefs about aging are protective: By feel- ing good overall about your experi- ence of aging, you experience less stress. Stress has long been identi- fied as a contribu- tor to numerous health conditions and has been indicated as a pos- sible contributor to dementia. Being guarded and careful might seem like a sound strategy, but maintaining an upbeat, positive frame of mind may extend your life. A positive outlook may also serve as a cop- ing mechanism against difficulty, in this case, against societal ageism. The role of optimism as a protective coping strategy has been well documented across a spectrum of health con- cerns, including speedier recovery from surgery and less rehospital- ization following medical inter ven- tion as well as in the experience of pain. Numerous studies over the past few decades have identified a positive outlook with reductions in heart disease, stroke, and per- ception of pain, and indicated its role in strengthen- ing the immune system. In one study of more than 2,500 men and women over age 65, those with the most positive outlook had the lowest blood pres- sures. And, we recently learned, optimism might even help you live longer. In 2016, researchers at Harvard Univer- sity’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that women who were optimistic had 27% less risk of dying from major diseases, includ- ing cancer, heart disease, and respi- ratory disease. The reason? Optimism is cor- related to healthier behaviors, such as eating well, exer- cise, and sleeping better. But the effects may not only be behavioral: Optimism is also linked to lower inflammation and cor tisol levels and healthier lipid levels. These findings “suggest that we should make effor ts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges,” study coauthor Eric Kim said. June 2018 mindful 67