The protective effect of emotional vitality on adverse health outcomes in disabled older women

Brenda W.J.H. Penninx, Jack M. Guralnik, Karen Bandeen-Roche, Judith D. Kasper, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Luigi Ferrucci, Linda P. Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Although the adverse physical health consequences of negative emotions have been studied extensively, much less is known about the potential impact of positive emotions. This study examines whether emotional vitality protects against progression of disability and mortality in disabled older women. DESIGN: A community-based study, The Women's Health and Aging Study. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 1002 moderately to severely disabled women aged 65 years and older living in the community. MEASUREMENTS: Emotional vitality was defined as having a high sense of personal mastery, being happy, and having low depressive symptomatology and anxiety. The onset of new disability was determined by semiannual assessments of disability in performing activities of daily living (ADLs), walking across a room, walking 1/4 mile, and lifting/carrying 10 pounds. Mortality status was determined by proxy interviews and linkage with death certificates. Survival analyses with time to onset of specific disabilities (among those not disabled at baseline) and time to mortality were performed and adjusted for age, baseline level of difficulty, physical performance, and chronic conditions. RESULTS: Three hundred fifty-one of the 1002 older disabled women studied were emotionally vital. Among women without the specific disability at baseline, emotional vitality was associated with a significantly decreased risk for incident disability performing ADLs (RR = 0.81, 95% CI = 0.66-0.99), for incident disability walking one-quarter mile (RR = 0.73, 95% CI = 0.59-0.92), and for incident disability lifting/carrying 10 pounds (RR = 0.77, 95% CI = 0.63-0.95). Emotional vitality was also associated with a lower risk of dying (RR = 0.56, 95% CI = 0.39-0.80). These results were not simply caused by the absence of depression since protective health effects remained when emotionally vital women were compared with 334 women who were not emotionally vital and not depressed. CONCLUSIONS: Emotional vitality in older disabled women reduces the risk for subsequent new disability and mortality. Our findings suggest that positive emotions can protect older persons against adverse health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1359-1366
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2000


  • Disability
  • Emotional vitality
  • Longitudinal study
  • Mortality
  • Psychological well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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