The relation of optimism to relative telomere length in older men and women

Eric S. Kim, Hilary A. Tindle, Laura D. Kubzansky, Simin Liu, Meredith S. Duncan, Jo Ann E. Manson, Sparkle Springfield, Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, Aladdin H. Shadyab, Buyun Liu, Francine Grodstein, Immaculata de Vivo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Mounting evidence suggests that higher optimism is associated with reduced risk of age-related morbidities and premature mortality. However, possible biological mechanisms underlying these associations remain understudied. One hypothesized mechanism is a slower rate of cellular aging, which in turn delays age-related declines in health. Methods: We used data from two large cohort studies to test the hypothesis that higher optimism is associated with longer leukocyte telomere length. With cross-sectional data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; n = 6417; mean age = 70 years) and the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI; N = 3582; mean age = 63 years), we used linear regression models to examine the association of optimism with relative telomere length (assessed in leukocytes from saliva [HRS] or plasma [WHI]). Models adjusted for sociodemographics, depression, health status, and health behaviors. Results: Considering both optimism and telomere length as continuous variables, we found consistently null associations in both cohorts, regardless of which covariates were included in the models. In models adjusting for demographics, depression, comorbidities, and health behaviors, optimism was not associated with mean relative telomere length (HRS: β = −0.002, 95% confidence interval = −0.014 to 0.011; WHI: β = −0.004, 95% confidence interval = −0.017 to 0.009). Conclusions: Findings do not support mean telomere length as a mechanism that explains observed relations of optimism with reduced risk of chronic disease in older adults. Future research is needed to evaluate other potential biological markers and pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-171
Number of pages7
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Source of Funding and Conflict of Interest: This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Aging (R01AG53273, K99AG055696) and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (R01 DK062290). The WHI program is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services through contracts HHSN268201600018C, HHSN268201600001C, HHSN2682016 00002C, HHSN268201600003C, and HHSN268201600004C. Eric Kim has consulted with AARP and UnitedHealth Group. Hilary Tindle has consulted for Achieve Life Sciences on study design for smoking cessation trials and is principal investigator on studies that have received donated medication from the manufacturer.

Funding Information:
The authors thank the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) investigators and staff for their dedication, and the study participants for making the program possible. WHI Investigators include Program Office: (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Bethesda, MD) Jacques Rossouw, Shari Ludlam, Joan McGowan, Leslie Ford, and Nancy Geller; Clinical Coordinating Center: (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA) Garnet Anderson, Ross Prentice, Andrea LaCroix, and Charles Kooperberg; Investigators and Academic Centers: (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA) JoAnn E. Manson; (MedStar Health Research Institute/Howard University, Washington, DC) Barbara V. Howard; (Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford, CA) Marcia L. Stefanick; (The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH) Rebecca Jackson; (University of Arizona, Tucson/Phoenix, AZ) Cynthia A. Thomson; (University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY) Jean Wactawski-Wende; (University of Florida, Gainesville/Jacksonville, FL) Marian Limacher; (University of Iowa, Iowa City/Davenport, IA) Jennifer Robinson; (University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA) Lewis Kuller; (Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC) Sally Shumaker; (University of Nevada, Reno, NV) Robert Brunner; (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN) Karen L. Margolis CDC: Xiaoyun Ye, Manori J. Silva, Ella Samandar, James Preau, Jr., Tao Jia. A full listing of WHI investigators can be found at: 20a%20Paper/WHI%20Investigator%20Long%20List.pdf. The authors would also like to acknowledge and thank the Health and Retirement Study, which is conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, with grants from the National Institute on Aging (U01AG09740) and the Social Security Administration.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 by the American Psychosomatic Society


  • Aging
  • Optimism
  • Psychological well-being
  • Telomere length

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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