Why the secret to ‘exceptional longevity’ isn’t diet or exercise

We all want to be exceptional. And I think I may be exceptional in one important way. Only time will tell, but the women in my family tend to experience exceptional longevity.

What is exceptional longevity?

Exceptional longevity means living past 85. Both of my grandmas achieved exceptional longevity… and my great-grandmas. My mom’s well on her way too. She’s only 62, but she’s in fantastic health. She doesn’t take any medications and people often mistake her for my sister.

Clearly, there might be something genetic happening here. But even if your family history isn’t filled with shining examples of exceptional longevity, you can achieve it too.

In fact, a new study shows that the secret to exceptional longevity may be in your mind more than your genes, diet or workout routine…

An optimistic attitude paves the way for exceptional longevity

A new study from researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that optimists are more likely to achieve exceptional longevity.

The study included data from 69,744 women and 1,429 men who completed surveys that measured their optimism levels, health and lifestyle habits. They then followed these women for 10 years and these men for 30 years.

Men and women with the most optimistic attitudes during that initial survey lived 11 to 15 percent longer and were 50 to 70 percent more likely to reach 85 years of age.

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Why does optimism defend against an early death?

Researchers don’t know for sure. But previous research shows that optimism helps people take control of their emotions and behavior. That means they’re more resilient and bounce back quicker in the face of stressful events and life challenges.

Getting in tune with your inner optimist

Thinking positive thoughts sounds easy enough in theory. But if you’ve ever tried to change your thoughts, you know, it’s hard. We all have negative thought patterns we’ve practiced for years, decades or even our whole lives. They’re habits. And like any long-term habit, it’s work to let them go.

How do you do it?

Start by recognizing that optimism is a choice. Optimistic thoughts won’t necessarily pop up naturally, especially when you have challenging or uncomfortable situations happening in your life. You have to choose optimism in each moment, just like you choose to go to the gym or eat vegetables.

Once you’ve committed yourself to an optimistic practice, start paying attention to your thoughts and beliefs. When you notice negative thoughts or beliefs, take a moment to reflect on why you have this negative thought or belief. Sometimes, you’ll recognize that a negative thought or belief isn’t necessarily true. It’s just something you use to protect yourself against disappointment or a belief passed down from your parents that you never questioned. Recognizing this can help you let it go and replace it with something more optimistic.

Now there are two important things I need to clarify here…

Optimism isn’t about repressing negative thoughts and feelings. It’s about questioning them and reframing them. Most of our thoughts are habitual, which means we’ve never taken time to examine why we think them or whether they’re even true.

Optimism is about choosing where you place your focus. No matter how challenging a situation, there’s always something to be grateful for. In fact, the greatest rewards often come from the greatest challenges in life. Focus on the small things you’re grateful for or the rewards that come from challenges instead of negativity.

If you want help reframing your negative thoughts and beliefs, you can work with a psychologist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a form of therapy that does exactly that. You could also check out the work of Byron Katie. She’s an author and teacher who’s developed a method for examining your thoughts and beliefs that frees you from the stressful, untrue thoughts holding you back from happiness… and apparently, longevity!

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  1. New evidence that optimists live longer — MedicalXpress
  2. Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and womenProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  3. Becoming an OptimistPsychology Today


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.