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Happiness tied to a longer life, study says

October 16, 2012

Many people believe the key to longevity rests with maintaining their physical well-being, and while that's certainly important, a new study suggests they should consider their mental health as well. A large analysis of Britain's English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) found that people who reported enjoying their life tended to live longer than those who were unhappy.

The study, which looked at more than 10,000 adults over 50, found that participants in the lower third of enjoyment levels were about three times more likely to die over the course of nine years. In fact, about 29 percent of the unhappiest people passed away during the study, while only about 10 percent of the happier participants died.

Researchers aren't sure why happy people tend to live longer, but they suggest it could be due to the fact they are more likely to follow healthier living habits. For instance, people with a more positive outlook typically exercise more and have lower levels of stress than people who are not happy. Whatever the reason, the correlation between mental health and physical well-being was clear.

"These remarkable findings became even more astonishing when it became clear that the link between psychological well being and long term health and survival was independent of other factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, wealth, education and baseline health," study coordinator Andrew Steptoe said in a release.

While the study identifies the link between happiness and healthy aging, it does not highlight what the best way for older adults to maintain their positive outlook is. One of the most significant aspects of mental health is making social engagement a priority, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. Not only can staying socially active stave off loneliness and depression, the researchers found that socializing plays a role in helping older adults maintain their cognitive function.