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Stay fit and untroubled by negative feelings for a long life

People whose condition is good live longer. That's old news. Less hackneyed is the discovery reported by epidemiologists at the Swedish Karolinska Institutet in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. According to the researchers, fit people live even longer if they are not weighed down by feelings of anger, disappointment and sorrow.

Psychologists make a distinction between positive feelings such as happiness and optimism and the absence of negative feelings such as anger and sorrow. In the field of positive psychology, researchers are convinced of the protective effect of positive feelings and the damaging effect of negative feelings, but a methodological problem is that your level of fitness also contributes to determining how you feel: the fitter you are, the better you feel.

If you want to show that positive feelings help you live longer and negative feelings have the opposite effect, you'll have to look at fitness too. So that's exactly what the researchers did. They followed 4888 well-educated and healthy Americans for 15 years, and looked at how many of them died during that period. The researchers knew about the participants' cardiovascular fitness level when the study started. The participants also had to fill in questionnaires so the researchers knew about their positive and negative feelings.

The researchers asked the participants on the one hand about irritating moods that they found it difficult to shake off, depression, feelings of failure, anxiety, loneliness, anger and sorrow, and on the other about good humour, optimism, enjoyment of life and happiness.

Positive emotions reduced the likelihood of dying, but if you also take fitness into account the effect was not so strong. The absence of negative emotions had more effect.

Stay fit and untroubled by negative feelings for a long life

Fit people who do not have negative emotions are about a quarter less likely to die than unfit people or people who do have negative emotions. People who are both fit and not troubled by negative emotions are sixty percent less likely to die.

Stay fit and untroubled by negative feelings for a long life

Stay fit and untroubled by negative feelings for a long life

Going by the results of this study, life extensionists interested in positive psychology would do better not to spend too much time cultivating positive thoughts. Solving problems that are causing them negative feelings will have more effect.

"In addition to encouraging increased levels of physical activity for patients with low cardiorespiratory fitness, health professionals may also be able to intervene so that decreased levels of low negative emotion can be realized", the researchers conclude. "Improvements in both may lead to the largest reductions in the risk of premature death."

Am J Prev Med. 2010 Nov;39(5):440-8.

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