Want to age more healthily? Always look on the bright side of life
Research has shown that lonely older adults are at greater risk of developing health problems but a new study from Concordia University has suggested that looking on the bright side of life can help them prevent these age-related health risks.
The study by Carsten Wrosch, a professor in Concordia's Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, proved that older adults who approach life with a positive outlook could 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," explained Wrosch.
Wrosch co-authored the article with Concordia's PhD graduate, Rebecca Rueggeberg, and colleagues Gregory Miller from the University of British Columbia and Thomas McDade from Northwestern University in Illinois.
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 measured loneliness by asking participants to what extent they felt lonely or isolated during a typical day.
Wrosch and his colleagues 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; and people with elevated CRP are at increased risk of inflammatory illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Their findings showed that, among lonely older adults, the use of positive thinking helped protect against an increase in cortisol secretion. Four years down the road, further tests showed the participants' CRP levels had improved.