British Columbia

Research suggests positive attitude may be secret to long life

A new study suggests a positive attitude may contribute to a long life.

Study was conducted among one of the oldest populations in the world

A recent study conducted in southern Italy suggests optimism and mental resilience may be the key to long life. (CBC News)

Research already suggests a healthy diet and physical activity may lead to a longer life — but now new data reveals certain character traits might also boost longevity.

A recent study, published in the scientific journal International Psychogeriatrics, suggests exceptional longevity can be achieved through a combination of positive attitude, resilience to overcome adversity, and close ties to a personal purpose like family or religion.

The study was conducted in nine villages in the Cilento region of southern Italy. It examined the psychological traits in a group of rural Italians aged 90 to 101, and their children or other family members.

"This Cilento region is known for having many of the 'oldest old,' as they're called," Sharon Basaraba, a Canadian healthy aging expert, told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

The study was relatively small, with only 29 nonagenarians and centenarians and 51 family members aged 51 to 75.

The goal was to find a common thread among the elderly, which could explain their longevity.

The nonagenarians and centenarians were asked to share their personal stories — everything from past traumatic events and migrations to spiritual and cultural beliefs.

The younger participants were asked to describe their impressions about the personality traits of their older relative.

"All were scored according to very well-established scales that rate mental health and perspective," Basaraba said.

The group as a whole scored very highly for "positive outlook." This included high scores in resilience, optimism and strong work ethic.

'Paradox of aging'

Those positive mental qualities were quite high, despite the declining physical health of the older participants.

This highlighted what Basaraba called the "paradox of aging," wherein some older people have a healthier mental outlook than younger people, even though their bodies typically aren't as healthy.

But the question still remains, Basaraba said, as to whether their positive outlook led to their longevity or vice versa.

"It does kind of raise a chicken and egg question," she said.

Basaraba called this study more of a "snapshot" of people who are already old — a longer-term study would be required to truly determine what got them there.

With files from North by Northwest