WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
Oct. 31, 2011 -- Could happiness be the key to a long, or at least longer, life? Maybe, researchers say.
In a study from the UK, older people who said they were happy, even for a little while, were less likely to die over a five-year period. And the happier they were, the longer they lived.
Overall, the results showed that older people who reported feeling happiest had a 35% lower risk of dying during the study than those who were least happy.
The study followed more than 3,800 people in the UK aged 52 to 79 for five years. It was done as part of the longest-running British study on aging.
Earlier studies have looked at happiness and longevity by asking people to recall their emotional state. This study asked people to rate their feelings of happiness and anxiety at different points throughout the day.
Researchers found that people who reported feeling happiest had a 35% lower risk of dying during the study than people who were least happy.
Negative emotions like anxiety did not appear to have any effect on longevity.
The study researchers caution that the results do not show a cause-and-effect relationship between happiness and longer life. Instead, they say, momentary happiness may relate to biological processes or other behavioral factors that could explain the increased survival odds.
They do say, however, that the findings emphasize the importance of emotional well-being for older people.
The results were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
SOURCES:Steptoe, A. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Oct. 31, 2011, online early edition.News release, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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