I recently blogged about watching Michael Mosley on a BBC Horizon programme which revealed the measurable and the subjective value of mindfulness meditation. During the programme Michael also mentioned another activity or attitude which could increase life expectancy more than twice as much as finding a cure for cancer.
This was a little “throw-away phrase” that was so astounding, I had to dig around and find the evidence. He said something to the effect that having a positive attitude to ageing increases life expectancy by twice as much as curing cancer.
And the evidence for the very beneficial effects of a positive attitude to ageing really is out there. It turns out that, if people in their 50s have a positive attitude towards ageing, they will, on average, live 7.5 years longer than people who live in fear of growing old.
The original (OSLAR) study involved over a thousand individuals in one small community in Ohio, USA. They were invited to participate in a survey of attitudes towards ageing if they were over 50 and in good mental health.
If you think about it, as you consider retirement you might fear it will be a time of ill health, restricted income or being consigned to the waste-bin of life. Alternatively you might look forward to more freedom, the chance to travel, to read more, develop a new hobby or get more involved in a meaningful community.
Long term follow-up of the OSLAR study 23 years later shows that on average people with more positive attitudes lived 7.5 years longer – and those years were also of good quality. This is one of the most well known of many studies showing positive attitudes to ageing really do have measurable health benefits.
The mechanisms, how the attitudes translate into longer life, are not exactly known but it’s easy to speculate. Positive attitude has been shown to support improved health and an active and effective immune system which will reduce the incidence and severity of infection and even of cancer. If you think positively about the future, the chances are you’ll also share in more healthy activities, eating, exercise and even engage with appropriate medical prescriptions. If you see life as positive, you’ll tend to do things to look after yourself.
Fearing that the rest of your life will be lived “on the scrap heap” I guess would be a fairly depressing thought, might encourage you to stay home, watch day time TV and eat fast food until the grim reaper knocks on your door.
For me the important thing about this is that the benefits of a positive attitude kick-in now.
A more positive attitude to life today has benefits today. Taking actions to engage in more healthy activities now will have benefits now and into the future.
There are some obvious things that we can do to improve our health:
- eat more fresh fruit and vegetables
- take more exercise
- give up smoking
- reduce alcohol consumption
- maybe get more involved with a new group activity if groups are your thing…
So where will you start?
If you want to nail your colours to a mast, let us know by leaving a comment below!