Contented people live longer
If life has brought you what you wanted, you are less likely to die than if you're dissatisfied with what you've got out of life so far. Korean epidemiologists at Yonsei University discovered that over-55s live longer the higher their 'life satisfaction index' is.
The researchers were building on work done by the American psychologist Bernice Neugarten. She studied psychological processes in older adults, and coined the term the 'young-old' - over-55s who become socially and culturally more active as they reach the end of their working life. They start to live more healthily, read more, take courses or join a political party. The 'young-old' enter a new phase of life.
In 1961 Neugarten designed the life satisfaction index. [J Gerontol. 1961 Apr;16:134-43.] This is a questionnaire that psychologists use to measure elderly people's satisfaction with their life.
The Koreans used an adapted form of the questionnaire, and in 1994 they used it to interview about 2000 over-55s. The list included statements such as 'If I could live my life over again, I wouldn't change anything' and 'I have achieved everything I wanted to in my life'. The over-55s had to indicate how much they agreed with the statements.
In 2005, so 11 years later, the researchers worked out which of the participants were still alive. This way they were able to conclude that a high degree of life satisfaction reduced the risk of mortality in men [immediately below] and women [bottom table]. The effect was particularly strong among the women.
Satisfaction with life has a protective effect on cardiovascular health in particular, but the Koreans don't exclude the possibility that the positive effect of life satisfaction also extends to other systems.
"Further studies are necessary to describe the relationship between life satisfaction and mortality risk for a wider range of diseases", the researchers suggest.
BMC Public Health. 2012 Jan 19;12:54.
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