Life satisfaction linked to mortality risk in older adults

Is a long life a happy one? That may be a better question for philosophers than scientists, but the opposite concept, that happy lives tend to be long, may be medically supported, according to a new study. 

Conducted at Chapman University, the study collected data on 4,458 Australians over 50. Over the course of the nine-year study period, the participants were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale from one to 10. Controlling for factors like age, gender, education, smoking, physical activity level and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers calculated each person's average life satisfaction across time as well as the variability in this satisfaction.

They found that people who experienced greater life satisfaction on average tended to live longer, and those whose life satisfaction was more variable between years tended to die sooner. Participants whose life satisfaction increased over the course of the nine years decreased their risk of mortality by up to 18 percent, while those whose life satisfaction fluctuated the most experienced up to a 20 percent increase in mortality risk. However, this last effect was mostly seen among those whose average life satisfaction was relatively low, with variability in satisfaction having less of an effect on more satisfied people.

"The key point is that variability seemed to matter most for people who were the least satisfied. People who had low levels of life satisfaction combined with satisfaction scores that were fluctuating across time had the highest risk of mortality. By contrast, people who had high levels of life satisfaction tended to have a reduced risk of mortality, regardless of the variability in their scores," lead author Dr. Julia Boehm told Medical Daily in an email.

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