Enjoying life in older age can lower the risk of death, according to new research in Britain.
Carried out by researchers at University College London, the team wanted to assess if sustained subjective well-being, defined as feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction with life, could actually have a positive impact on longevity.
Although previous research has already found a positive link between subjective well-being and longevity, the studies have focused on well-being on a single occasion, rather than sustained over a number of years.
For the new study the team recruited 9,365 men and women aged 50 and older (average age 63) who were taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
Participants’ enjoyment of life were assessed three times at two-year intervals between 2002 and 2006, and associations with mortality were analysed up to 2013.
After taking into account a range of factors that could influence the results, such as wealth, education, underlying health issues, and depressed mood, the team found that more women than men reported a high enjoyment of life, as did those who were married or cohabiting, well educated, wealthier, younger, and currently employed.
In addition, the team also found a higher mortality rate among participants with fewer reports of high enjoyment, with those who reported two occasions of high enjoyment benefiting from a 17% reduction in all-cause mortality risk, and those reporting three enjoying a 24% reduction when compared to those in the no high enjoyment group.
The team also corrected for any possible reverse causality, where lack of enjoyment is caused by serious illness that increases the risk of dying, but the results of the study stayed the same.
Although the authors pointed out that as an observational study, no cause-and-effect conclusions can be drawn, they also added that the results “add a new dimension to understanding the significance of subjective well-being for physical health outcomes by documenting a dose-response association with sustained well-being.”
The findings can be found published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal.