Positive Emotions Good for Health in Old Age

Author: Association for Psychological Science
Published: 2011/01/20 - Updated: 2022/06/26
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Data shows positive emotions may be a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and illness. The benefits of these healthy lifestyle choices may become more important in older adults as their bodies become more susceptible to disease. An optimistic outlook has also been shown to combat stress, a known risk factor for many diseases. Despite the significant loss of physical function throughout the body, a person's emotional capacity remains consistent with age.

Introduction

The notion that feeling good may be good for your health is not new, but is it true? A new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reviews the existing research on how positive emotions can influence health outcomes in later adulthood.

Main Digest

Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, publishes concise reviews on the latest advances in theory and research spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications.

"We all age. It is how we age, however, that determines the quality of our lives," said Anthony Ong of Cornell University, author of the review article.

The data he reviews suggest that positive emotions may be a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and illness. There are several pathways through which a positive attitude can protect against poor health later in life. For example, happier people might take a proactive approach to age by regularly exercising and budgeting time for a good night's sleep.

Alternately, these people may avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and risky sex.

The benefits of these healthy lifestyle choices may become more important in older adults as their bodies become more susceptible to disease. An optimistic outlook has also been shown to combat stress, a known risk factor for many diseases.

Studies have found that people with stronger positive emotions have lower chemicals associated with stress-related inflammation. Also, by adopting a positive attitude, people may even be able to undo some of the physical damage caused by stress.

Ong, a developmental psychologist, became interested in studying positive emotion during graduate school when he learned about what researchers call the paradox of aging. Despite the notable loss of physical function throughout the body, a person's emotional capacity seemed to stay consistent with age.

Ong speculates that if positive emotions are indeed good for our health, then "one direct, measurable consequence of this should be the extended years of quality living."

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