Adopting a positive attitude later in life offers a prescription for staying healthy during one’s golden years, according to a new study.
New research from Carsten Wrosch, Ph.D., a professor in Concordia University’s Department of Psychology, shows that older adults who approach life with a positive outlook can reverse the negative health issues associated with a lonely life. “Our aim was to see whether using self-protective strategies — such as thinking positively and avoiding self-blame in the context of common age-related threats — could prevent lonely older adults from exhibiting increases in stress hormones and inflammatory biomarkers,” said Wrosch.
To test this, the research team followed 122 senior citizens over a six-year period. They measured self-protective strategies with a questionnaire where participants were asked to rate statements such as, “Even if my health is in very difficult condition, I can find something positive in life,” or “When I find it impossible to overcome a health problem, I try not to blame myself.” The research team also asked the participants to what extent they felt lonely or isolated during a typical day. The researchers also used saliva and blood samples to measure how much cortisol and C-reactive protein (CRP) the participants produced.
These two biological markers were chosen because cortisol is responsible for stress-related changes in the body. People with elevated CRP, on the other hand, are at increased risk of inflammatory illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Their findings showed that positive thinking helped protect against an increase in cortisol secretion. Four years down the road, additional tests showed the participants’ CRP levels had improved.
The researchers report that for those older adults who did not report feelings of loneliness, this type of thinking had no effect, supposedly because their social networks may help them deal with age-related problems. Overall, these findings could contribute to successful aging, according to Wrosch. “It’s my hope that our research may improve clinical treatment of lonely older adults,” he said. “Older adults can be taught through counseling or therapy to engage in self-protective thoughts like staying positive when it comes to their own health. That means a better quality of life, both physically and mentally — something we all want at any age.” The study is set to be published in Psychosomatic Medicine.