MONDAY, Jan. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Happier seniors can
look forward to greater mobility as they age than their gloomier
peers, new research suggests.
The findings don't prove that happiness preserves mobility.
However, "the research suggests that enjoyment of life contributes
to healthier and more active old age," said study author Andrew
Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care
at University College London. And it's not just because healthier
people are happier and more energetic, he said.
The researchers, who study happiness and how it relates to life,
wanted to understand the physical effects of happiness.
"We have previously shown that positive well-being and enjoyment of life are predictors of longer life," Steptoe said. "Older people who report greater enjoyment are less likely to die over the next five to eight years than those with lower enjoyment of life."
For this study, published Jan. 20 in
CMAJ, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers
tracked almost 3,200 men and women aged 60 and over in England. The
participants took surveys designed to test their levels of
well-being. For instance, they were asked if they enjoy the things
they do, being in the company of other people and if they feel full
of energy. They also responded to questions about their ability to
handle day-to-day physical activities such as getting dressed and
showering. Some took a test that measured how fast they walked.
Over the eight years of the study, only 4 percent of people who
enjoyed life the most -- those in the top third of the total sample
-- developed problems physically handling day-to-day activities,
Steptoe said. But that number shot up to 17 percent among those who
showed the least enjoyment -- the people in the bottom third.
Greater life satisfaction at the study's start was also
associated with slower decline in walking speed, the researchers
"These associations could be due to many things: the people with greater enjoyment of life could be more affluent, have less physical illness or disability to start with, or have healthier lifestyles at the outset, and these factors could predict the changes in physical function over time," Steptoe said. "But what we found is that baseline health, economic circumstances and lifestyle explain only about half the association between enjoyment of life and deterioration in function. So there is more to it than that."
Steptoe said that less stress (and, potentially, more happiness)
could contribute to better health by protecting the body from the
harmful effects of stress hormones.
The research "suggests that among other things, we should think
about the positive aspects of life and experience of older people,"
Steptoe said. "Not only are these important issues in themselves,
they might have benefits in terms of physical function. These could
in turn help us contain the spiraling costs of social and health
care among older sectors of society."
James Maddux, a professor emeritus of psychology with the Center
for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University in
Fairfax, Va., said the findings are convincing and reflect other
"Healthy people are usually happier, and happy people are usually healthier," he said.
However, he said, it's important to be cautious about the
conclusions. "All we can conclude is some kind of relation between
physical health and happiness and life satisfaction," Maddux noted.
"The findings do not tell us whether a great sense of well-being
results in improved health or whether improved health results in a
greater sense of well-being."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about
engaging in activities you enjoy.
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