To date, most research regarding aging and health has been conducted from a disease perspective. In other words, the absence of unhealthy psychological functioning (e.g., depression), behaviors (e.g., smoking), biological markers (e.g., high total cholesterol), or conditions (e.g., diabetes) has implied the presence of health. However, we posit that health is characterized by both the absence of deteriorative processes and the presence of restorative processes. Drawing from perspectives on primordial prevention (in which the goal is to prevent unfavorable risk factors from developing), this project seeks to gain more understanding of those factors that help maintain health as people age. To this end, we will investigate whether the psychological asset of positive psychological well-being (i.e., evaluating one's life favorably and functioning effectively) is associated with the maintenance of favorable cardiovascular health. Favorable cardiovascular health, characterized by more than just the absence of cardiovascular disease, is a promising indicator of healthy aging. We hypothesize that relative to individuals with lower well-being, individuals with higher well-being will have greater odds of experiencing favorable cardiovascular health as they age. We will also investigate whether positive psychological well-being may be involved with better maintenance of health via its relationship with restorative behavioral and biological pathways (e.g., exercise and high density lipoprotein cholesterol). We hypothesize that relative to individuals with lower well-being, individuals with higher well-being will not only be more likely to exhibit restorative behaviors and biology at any single point in time, but also that they will be more likely to maintain restorative behaviors and biology over time. We will investigate these hypotheses by conducting secondary analyses in two unique cohorts at different points in the lifespan: younger adults from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study and older adults from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Determining whether well-being is associated with maintaining favorable cardiovascular health over time and at different periods in the life course, as well as whether well-being is associated with changes in restorative behaviors and biology, brings much needed attention to a more comprehensive characterization of positive health and adaptive aging. Rather than focusing on disease, disorder, or deficits, this work heeds recent calls to investigate those aspects of healthy psychological and physical functioning that occur before disease processes are established. Such work may not only promote improved cardiovascular health, but may also foster healthy aging more generally.

Public Health Relevance

Most research regarding aging and health has been conducted from a disease perspective;however, we posit that health is characterized not only by the absence of deteriorative processes or deficits, but also by the presence of restorative processes or assets. By investigating the associations between three different categories of assets - positive psychological well-being, favorable cardiovascular health, and restorative biological and behavioral pathways - this project seeks to understand how positive health, characterized in this more comprehensive way, can be maintained across adulthood.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Chapman University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Boehm, Julia K; Soo, Jackie; Chen, Ying et al. (2017) Psychological Well-being's Link with Cardiovascular Health in Older Adults. Am J Prev Med 53:791-798