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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Positive thinking 'extends life'
Scientists have come up with proof of the power of positive thinking.

They have found people who have a sunny, optimistic outlook on growing older live longer than those who are constantly worrying.

Positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy

Yale University researchers
The research suggests that people who feel bad about getting old accelerate the ageing process.

In contrast a positive attitude will add more years to your life than not smoking or taking regular exercise.

A team of American psychologists found that people who were positive about ageing lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who regretted the passing years.

They believe that negative thoughts about the ageing process have a direct impact on the will to live.

Better than low blood pressure

The researchers, led by Dr Becca Levy, from Yale University, in Connecticut, said the effect of a positive attitude towards ageing was greater than physiological measures such as low blood pressure and cholesterol - each of which is thought to add a maximum of four years to life.

The effect was even more pronounced than factors such as keeping weight down, not smoking and taking exercise - each thought to add between one and three years to life.

The researchers studied information from 660 volunteers aged fifty plus.

Death rates among the participants were compared with their responses to a survey conducted 23 years earlier.

The volunteers were asked if they agreed or disagreed to statements such as "as you get older, you are less useful".

Dr Levy's team believe the sheer will to live partly explains the link between positive thinking and longevity. However, they don't think it is the only reason.


They believe another factor is the effect of stress on the heart.

Previous research has shown that the hearts and arteries of elderly people exposed to negative ageing stereotypes do not respond well to stress.

People could have negative thoughts about aging picked up from society without even being aware of them, said the researchers.

"Our study carries two messages," they wrote.

"The discouraging one is that negative self-perceptions can diminish life expectancy.

"The encouraging one is that positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy."

The researchers warn that a poor attitude towards the elderly in Western societies may exacerbate the problems. It is time to stop knocking the old, they say, and make them feel good.

The research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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