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Are positive emotions good for your health in old age?

Date:
January 20, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
The notion that feeling good may be good for your health is not new, but is it really true? A new article reviews the existing research on how positive emotions can influence health outcomes in later adulthood.

The notion that feeling good may be good for your health is not new, but is it really 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.

"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 aging 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 a lot of disease. Studies have found that people with stronger positive emotions have lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammation related to stress. 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 the study of 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, measureable consequence of this should be the extended years of quality living."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. D. Ong. Pathways Linking Positive Emotion and Health in Later Life. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2010; 19 (6): 358 DOI: 10.1177/0963721410388805

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Are positive emotions good for your health in old age?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110120124959.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, January 20). Are positive emotions good for your health in old age?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110120124959.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Are positive emotions good for your health in old age?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110120124959.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

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