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A Positive Outlook on Aging May Mean a Longer Life

July 29, 2002|JANE E. ALLEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One key to a longer life may be the way you think about your own aging.

Researchers who followed 660 residents of a small Ohio town found that those with positive attitudes toward aging lived 7 1/2 years longer than those with negative views. The 338 men and 322 women, ages 50 to 94, were recruited in 1975 to participate in the Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement. At the time, they were asked to agree or disagree with statements about aging, such as: "As you get older, you get less useful." Researchers also assessed whether they were as happy and had as much pep as in their younger days.

The researchers, led by Becca R. Levy, an assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale University, tracked what had happened to each of them through 1998. Those with the most positive attitudes survived a median of 22.6 years after their initial interview; those with negative views lived just 15 years.

"I think part of it is these [aging] stereotypes are internalized at a very young age," Levy said.

Although the original 1975 study didn't have any formal measure of depression, it did rate overall morale among study subjects. When Levy and her colleagues factored out age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and level of physical functioning, those with better attitudes about aging lived longer than those who simply had good morale.

The findings appear in the August issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Assn.

Stanford Singer, a Manhattan psychologist who specializes in aging, said the study didn't prove that positive attitudes about aging alone accounted for their longevity. He said other factors likely come into play, such as an overall optimistic outlook.

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