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Aging Well

Enjoy Life and Be Healthier

When it comes to a positive attitude and the quality of life in older age, there really is a connection, according to a new study.

Researchers whose findings were published in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) found that the benefits of enjoying life include faster walking speeds and better physical function in daily activities.

The  investigators looked at 3,199 men and women aged 60 or over who were residents of England.

 The participants were divided into three age categories: 60–69, 70–79 and 80 years or over. Researchers from University College London (UCL), United Kingdom, evaluated the subjects'  enjoyment of life with a four-point scale, rating the following questions: "I enjoy the things that I do," "I enjoy being in the company of others," "On balance, I look back on my life with a sense of happiness" and "I feel full of energy these days." 

Researchers also interviewed the participants to see how they did with daily activities such as getting out of bed, getting dressed, or bathing.
They gauged walking speed with a gait test.

"The study shows that older people who are happier and enjoy life more show slower declines in physical function as they age," states Dr. Andrew Steptoe, UCL. "They are less likely to develop impairments in activities of daily living such as dressing or getting in or out of bed, and their walking speed declines at a slower rate than those who enjoy life less."

Participants in the 60–69-year bracket had higher levels of well-being, as did those with higher socioeconomic status and education and those who were married and working. Not surprisingly, people with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke and depression had lower levels of enjoyment of life.

And people with low well-being were more than three times as likely as their positive counterparts to develop problems in their daily physical activities.

"This is not because the happier people are in better health, or younger, or richer, or have more healthy lifestyles at the outset, since even when we take these factors into account, the relationship persists," Steptoe says. "Our previous work has shown that older people with greater enjoyment of life are more likely to survive over the next 8 years; what this study shows is that they also keep up better physical function."

 

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