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Objective Dispositional optimism measured with the Life Orientation Test has been associated with a variety of health outcomes. We assessed whether optimism was related to indices of healthy ageing, and if effects were mediated through health behaviours.

Method A community sample of 128 men and women aged 65 to 80 years was recruited from general practice lists. Optimism and health behaviours were assessed by questionnaire, and healthy ageing indexed by physical health summary scores from the Short Form 36, and by self-rated health.

Results Optimism was associated with not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, brisk walking, and vigorous physical activities (women only), independently of socio-demographic factors and clinical condition. Physical health status was associated with optimism, independently of socio-demographic factors, clinical condition, negative affectivity, and body mass. This effect was attenuated when health behaviours were taken into account. Self-rated health was also positively related to optimism, and this association was not mediated by health behaviours. Neither the optimism nor pessimism subscales of the Life Orientation Test showed as consistent effects as the full scale.

Conclusions We conclude that dispositional optimism is associated with healthy ageing. The relationship between optimism and healthy ageing was only partly mediated by the health behaviours assessed in this sample.