Sense of meaning and purpose in life linked to longer lifespan

November 6, 2014
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Science Daily/University College London
A study of 9,050 English people with an average age of 65 found that the people with the greatest well-being were 30 percent less likely to die during the average eight and a half year follow-up period than those with the least well-being.

The study, published in The Lancet as part of a special series on ageing, was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. It used questionnaire answers to measure a type of wellbeing called 'eudemonic wellbeing', which relates to your sense of control, feeling that what you do is worthwhile, and your sense of purpose in life. People were divided into four categories based on their answers, ranked from highest wellbeing to lowest wellbeing.

The results were adjusted for age, sex, socio-economic status, physical health, depression, smoking, physical activity and alcohol intake, to rule out as many factors as possible that could influence both health and wellbeing. For example, terminal illnesses could reduce both wellbeing and life expectancy.

Over the next eight and a half years, 9% of people in the highest wellbeing category had died, compared with 29% in the lowest category. Once all the other factors had been taken into account, people with the highest wellbeing were 30% less likely to die over the study period, living on average two years longer than those in the lowest wellbeing group.

"We have previously found that happiness is associated with a lower risk of death," says Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, who led the study. "These analyses show that the meaningfulness and sense of purpose that older people have in their lives are also related to survival. 

We cannot be sure that higher wellbeing necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal. But the findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing wellbeing could help to improve physical health. There are several biological mechanisms that may link wellbeing to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure. Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between wellbeing and life expectancy in older people."
Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141106211618.htm

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