Betty White died just before her 100th birthday. Queen Elizabeth II made it to 96 before her recent death. But was there a common factor they shared that helped them live a century? There are a number of things we can do to stay healthy and live longer, fuller lives, but according to new research, one thing in particular might be the key to longevity. A new study has found an association between people who have one specific thing and a longer lifespan. Read on to find out what could help you live past the age of 90.
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Life expectancy in the U.S. is declining.
Despite new advancements in the medical field, life expectancy among Americans is falling steadily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report on Aug. 31 explaining that the rate has dropped for the second year in a row. From 2019 to 2020, life expectancy at birth declined from 78.8 years to 77.0 years. And in 2021, the rate fell again to 76.1 years.
"That decline—77.0 to 76.1 years—took U.S. life expectancy at birth to its lowest level since 1996," the CDC explained. "The 0.9 year drop in life expectancy in 2021, along with a 1.8 year drop in 2020, was the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921 [to] 1923."
Experts say this is a concerning trend.
The deadly COVID pandemic has clearly played a part on the declining life expectancy among Americans. But despite this being the driving force, The New York Times said that a rise in accidental deaths and drug overdoses has also contributed to the troubling trend, alongside deaths from heart disease, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis.
"Even small declines in life expectancy of a tenth or two-tenths of a year mean that on a population level, a lot more people are dying prematurely than they really should be," Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), told the newspaper. "This signals a huge impact on the population in terms of increased mortality."
Experts are also concerned because while other high-income countries had their life expectancy rates severely impacted in 2020 as well, many of them started to bounce bank last year. This country did not see that same rise.
Steven Woolf, PhD, the director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told The New York Times that the continued fall of life expectancy in the U.S. is "historic" and a departure from other countries. "None of them experienced a continuing fall in life expectancy like the U.S. did, and a good number of them saw life expectancy start inching back to normal," he said. "The U.S. is clearly an outlier."
But a new study has found that there is one thing that might help you live past 90—even if life expectancy on the whole is going down.
Having one thing might help you live longer.
You may not want to worry too much about the life expectancy trend. As it turns out, new research has found that having a more positive attitude overall could actually help you live past the age of 90. This conclusion was reported in an American Geriatrics Society study that was published June 8 and led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The researchers found that "higher optimism was associated with longer lifespan and a greater likelihood of achieving exceptional longevity overall and across racial and ethnic groups," according to the study. This particular research built on a previous study from the same researchers that looked mostly at white populations to determine that optimism was linked to a longer lifespan. For the newer study, they analyzed a broadened participant pool of over 150,000 women from various racial and ethnic groups.
Out of these participants, the researchers found that the 25 percent who were the most optimistic were likely to have a 5.4 percent longer lifespan and a 10 percent greater chance of living beyond 90 years old compared to the 25 percent that were categorized as the least optimistic.
"Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups," lead author Hayami Koga, a PhD candidate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School, said in a statement.
You can work on becoming a more positive person.
The significant impact of optimism on aging isn't a mystery. A positive attitude has been linked with many health benefits that might contribute to a longer lifespan, Ryan Bolling, a behavior analyst and mental health professional, tells Best Life.
"Optimism has been found to boost the immune system, lower stress levels, and protect against heart disease," he notes. "A positive outlook on life may also lead to healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. All of these factors can contribute to a longer and healthier life."
Unfortunately, some of us aren't naturally disposed toward optimism. But that doesn't mean you can't put in the work to become a more positive person. Lori Feldman, LICSW, a licensed clinical support worker and a resident support advisor for Hebrew SeniorLife, recommends a few tips for increasing your positivity: connecting with at least one other person each day, practicing gratitude, moving around, and engaging in relaxation exercises.
"Focus on what you can control," Feldman advises. "Recognizing that you cannot control COVID-19 or the future but you can control what you do, like how much news you watch or what time you go to bed, may help you feel less anxious or negative." And that shift in mindset may pay off in the long run—the very long run, if you're lucky.