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Health

Optimistic women are more likely to live past 90, study finds

They also found living longer transcends race and ethnicity.

longevity, long life, women, old age
Photo by Robin Noguier on Unsplash

Who knew optimism was the key to a longer life?

There's something to be said for having a positive outlook on life. Optimism may not only make you happier, it can also help you live longer. Yes, you're reading that correctly: Being optimistic can actually add years to your life. A study done by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found a correlation between lifespan and optimism in women. The authors discovered that optimistic women had a longer lifespan, many living past the age of 90.

In a previous version of this study, data showed the correlation between living past the age of 85 and higher levels of optimism. But that study looked at a mostly white people. This later study expanded the pool of participants to include more people from diverse backgrounds.



In this version of the study, the research team looked at data from 159, 255 participants from the Women’s Health Initiative. The group included women between the ages of 50 and 79 (specifically postmenopausal women). The women had to fall into that age bracket between 1993 and 1998, then they were followed for 26 years.

“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,” Hayami Koga, a Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Population Health Sciences program in partnership with Harvard Chan School, and lead author of the study said in a press release.

According to the press release, the study "found no interaction between optimism and any categories of race and ethnicity, and these trends held true after taking into account demographics, chronic conditions, and depression."

“A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups," Koga said.

Think about it. There's a lot to be said about positive thinking—it's not always easy to do, and yes, toxic positivity is a very real thing. But reframing your way of thinking to allow for more positivity clearly isn't a bad thing. Will it allow you to transcend things like structural racism, discrimination and other legitimate life barriers? Absolutely not. It will, however, give you a stronger foundation to pull from when those things start to make you weary.

I don't know if there's a way to teach people to be optimistic without it feeling hokey. However, if you tell someone, "Hey, this could put years on your life clock," they might be more interested. Koga believes that the findings of this study can allow people to look at how they approach their health.

As the study reveals, a lot of the factors that contribute to longevity that we traditionally think of, such as diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes, don't seem to hold as much weight compared to an optimistic outlook. According to the study's findings, lifestyle choices "accounted for less than a quarter of the optimism-lifespan association," and more than half of the women in the group (53%) achieved "exceptional longevity." It defines exceptional longevity as living 90 years or longer. When compared to the least optimistic participants, the optimistic women had a 5.4% longer lifespan. According to the CDC, as of 2020, the average life expectancy for women is 80.5 years. So those who have a more optimistic outlook might live 10 years longer than the current average lifespan. That definitely gives you something to think about!

“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health,” Koga said. “It is also important to think about the positive resources such as optimism that may be beneficial to our health, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across racial and ethnic groups.”

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Native Siberian shares what daily life entails in the coldest village on Earth

See how the people of Yakutia, Siberia take showers, do laundry, go to school and more in minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

A man in the Yakutia region of Siberia takes an ice bath in minus 50 degrees Celsius.

For most of us, waking up to a temperature of minus 50 degrees would spell catastrophe. Normal life would come to a screeching halt, we'd be scrambling to deal with frozen pipes and power outages, school and work would be canceled and weather warnings would tell us not to venture outside due to frostbite risk.

But in the Yakutia region of Siberia, that's just an average winter day where life goes on as usual.

When you live in the coldest inhabited area on Earth, your entire life is arranged around dealing with ridiculously cold temperatures. Villages don't have running water because freezing pipes wouldn't allow for water treatment. Kids go to school unless the temp drops below minus 55 degrees Celsius (which is then considered dangerous). Showering involves spending hours stoking a fire in the bathhouse to create a steamy, warm room.

Native Siberian Kiun B. has created a series of documentary short films detailing what daily life is like in Yakutia's frigid winters. She was born and raised in Yakutsk, Siberia, widely recognized as the coldest city on Earth, where average winter temperatures hover around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As seen in her videos, smaller villages in the Yakutia region regularly dip down into the negative 50s, with the lowest recorded temp in the Yakut village of Oymayakon reaching a mindblowing minus 96 degrees Fahrenheit.

The popularity of Kiun's YouTube channel demonstrates how curious people are about life in such harsh conditions, as her videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people in the past year alone.

Check out this video detailing a day in the life of a family in a Yakutia village.

Can you imagine going out to use an outhouse in minus 40 degrees? Oof.

Another of Kiun's videos goes into more detail about how people shower and do laundry in the region. You might assume they wouldn't line-dry their laundry outdoors, but they do.

Watch:

What do people wear to protect themselves from the negative temperatures? Frostbite is a real risk, so it's important to have the right kinds of clothing and outdoor gear to stay safe and relatively comfortable.

Kiun shared some frigid fashion norms from Yakutsk, which include traditional fur hats and boots as well as lots of layers and down jackets.

However, there are some Yakut folks who see the cold as something to embrace. For instance, this man takes an ice bath out in the elements as a morning ritual. It's something he has worked up to—definitely not something to try on your own during a cold snap—but it still has to be painful.

(Seriously, please don't try this at home.)

The way humans have learned to adapt to drastically different environments, from the sweltering tropics to the Arctic tundra, is incredible, and it's fascinating to get a close-up look at how people make life work in those extremes. Thank you, Kiun B., for giving us a glimpse of what it's like to experience life in the dead of winter in the world's coldest inhabited places.