New U.S. research has found that having an optimistic partner could help you live a healthier life.
Carried out by researchers from Michigan State University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the new study looked at nearly 4,457 retired heterosexual couples over the age of 50 who had their optimism assessed at the start of the study.
The participants also had their cognition measured every two years, undergoing up to five assessments over an 8-year period.
The findings, published in the Journal of Personality, showed a small but positive association between the participants' own optimism and their cognitive functioning. Moreover, there was also a link between their partner's optimism and their own cognitive functioning, with the team finding that being in a couple with an optimistic person appeared to help prevent the onset of cognitive decline.
The researchers found that optimistic people could help boost their partner's health by encouraging healthy habits that may reduce the risk factors leading to Alzheimer's disease, dementia and cognitive decline as they grow old together, such as encouraging them to start exercise or quit smoking.
"We spend a lot of time with our partners," said William Chopik, co-author of the study. "They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine. When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life. You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses."
"We found that when you look at the risk factors for what predicts things like Alzheimer's disease or dementia, a lot of them are things like living a healthy lifestyle," Chopik said. "Maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity are large predictors. There are some physiological markers as well. It looks like people who are married to optimists tend to score better on all of those metrics."
"There's a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead," continued Chopik, "While there's some research on people being jealous of their partner's good qualities or on having bad reactions to someone trying to control you, it is balanced with other research that shows being optimistic is associated with perceiving your relationship in a positive light."
If you don't think you're a naturally optimistic person, Chopik has encouraging news, saying that although optimism may be in part hereditary, it can also be trained.
"There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change," Chopik said. "Part of it is wanting to change. There are also intervention programs that suggest you can build up optimism."