Attitudes and traits which slow your aging
A study (1) shows that one secret to a long life is to be conscientious. Diligent, hard-working and emotionally stable people live four years longer on average than those who are slapdash and complacent, according to the research. Co-author Margaret Kern said: "These individuals are hardworking, resourceful, confident and ambitious." The findings add to growing evidence that links our health with our temperament.
Dr Howard Friedman, of the University of California, Riverside, said the study into the personality and life span of 8,900 people showed that "Conscientious folks are less likely to smoke, drink to excess or take too many risks ... But it is also true that conscientious folks lead life patterns that are more stable and less stressful."
The most important character traits associated with longevity are:
- Being a high achiever. The researchers emphasised that this does not mean you have to toil through a life of tedious drudgery.
- The second longest livers were orderly - people who keep their lives well organised and structured.
- people who were reliable and responsible. Ms Kern added: "These people are often seen as respectable members of the community, who contribute time and energy to society, co-operate with colleagues and neighbours, and are trustworthy".
- Feeling connected. Those who feel lonely or socially isolated are two to three times more likely to die from heart disease, strokes and other causes than those who feel connected to other people. (5, 6, 7)
Amazingly, people who were the least conscientious were 50% more likely to die at any given age than those who scored highly.
The research also showed that your health is linked to your status. People with PhDs often live longer than those with undergrad degrees, who live longer than non-graduates, and Oscar-winners live around three years more than nominated actors who miss out.
Another study (3) showed that positive attitudes such as optimism, feeling less frail (or feeling stronger), confidence, and self-esteem had big benefits. Those who have a can-do attitude and a swing in their step feel happier and have more enjoyable lives. They also feel and display signs of being physically stronger than their more pessimistic peers.
Mental attitude is discussed in detail in Grow Youthful.
Your attitude to life also has an important effect on your immune system. Researchers (2) have shown that people who are care-free and calm seem to have better protection against infections. They seem to get sick less often, and when they do get ill, they recover more quickly and have fewer symptoms.
In the study, healthy volunteers were asked to describe their moods and then exposed them to a common cold or flu virus. Those who said they were at ease, happy and energised - versus depressed, angry or anxious - had fewer symptoms like coughing, sinus pain / inflammation and achy joints. The researchers concluded that positive emotions strongly influence your immune system.
Research has shown that negative attitudes can put your at risk of heart disease, stroke, shorten your life and lead to a variety of other health problems. However, until recently there was little scientific evidence to show that life satisfaction and happy attitudes directly lead to improved heart health. A study published in 2011 showed that the more satisfied you are with your life, the lower your risk of coronary heart disease. (4)
Scientists asked nearly 8,000 people to rate their level of satisfaction in seven life domains: jobs, family, love relationships, sex life, leisure, standard of living and self. Those who saw themselves as most satisfied in four of those life domains - their job, family, sex life and self, had significantly lower levels of heart disease. The other three life domains (love relationships, leisure activities, and standard of living) did not seem to affect heart health.
1. Kern Margaret L., Friedman Howard S. Do conscientious individuals live longer? A quantitative review.
Health Psychology. Vol 27(5), Sep 2008, 505-512
2. Cohen, S. et al. Positive emotional style predicts resistance to illness after experimental exposure to rhinovirus or influenza a virus. Psychosomatic Medicine 2006 Nov-Dec;68(6):809-815
3. Ostir, G. V. et al. Onset of frailty in older adults and the protective role of positive affect. Psychology and Aging 2004 Sep;19(3):402-408
4. Julia K. Boehm, Christopher Peterson, Mika Kivimaki, Laura D. Kubzansky. Heart health when life is satisfying: evidence from the Whitehall II cohort study European Heart Journal, 2011.
5. Berkman, Lisa et al. Social networks, Host Resistance and Mortality: a nine year follow up study of Alameda county residents. American Journal of Epidemiology 128 (1988): 370-380.
6. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, David Stephenson. Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science March 2015 vol. 10 no. 2 227-237. doi: 10.1177/1745691614568352.
7. Nicole K Valtorta, Mona Kanaan, Simon Gilbody, Sara Ronzi, Barbara Hanratty. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2015-308790. Published Online 18 April 2016.