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Health, Science and Environment

Partner optimism linked to long term cognitive health

Ilya Nodia

New research out of Michigan State University suggests that having an optimistic partner can have long-term health benefits.

Researchers asked people whether they felt positively about the future and compared the findings to how their partners performed on cognitive tests. Researchers found a link between optimism and a partner's cognitive performance over time.

Professor William Chopik is a researcher on the study.

“We found that being optimistic was good for your health but over and above that being married to an optimistic person was good for you as well.”

Chopik said the impact is especially strong for a person who isn’t optimistic married to a person who is.

“Everyone benefited but it was particularly beneficial for those who don’t look on the bright side of life.”

Chopik said part of what seems to be happening is that optimism motivates healthier lifestyles.

“Being optimistic makes you healthier which then benefits you cognitively. When you look at the risk factors for something like Alzheimer's disease a lot of it are unhealthy lifestyle factors like having a bad diet or being sedentary. That increases it pretty dramatically.”

Chopik said previous research has shown that optimism is a consistent predictor of positive health outcomes - which is to say optimism preceded positive health outcomes but having healthy habits wouldn’t necessarily lead to higher optimism.

“The thing about optimism is that it motivates all sorts of things,” Chopik said. “If you think you’ll go to the gym and there’s no point to it and it’ll never translate to anything good then you are less likely to do that.”

The study looked at just under 45-hundred heterosexual couples over eight years and found a link between having an optimistic partner and the prevention of cognitive decline.

The couples studied were on average 70-years old.