Change Your Mind to Live Longer

If You Want to Live Longer, Will You?

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

Many factors influence how long you live. Recent research suggests that your will to live belongs on that list. Finnish researchers followed 283 older (average age 79) Helsinki residents with cardiovascular disease for 10 years as part of the Drugs and Evidence-Based Medicine in the Elderly study. At baseline, researchers asked the participants, “How many years do you still wish to live?” Three possible responses included: 1) less than five years, or 2) 5-10 years, or 3) more than 10 years. Compared to those who wanted to live less than five years, those who wanted to live for more than 10 years had half the risk of dying over the 10 year follow-up period, regardless of age, gender, or chronic illnesses. At that time, an 80-year old person in Finland had a projected longevity of 7.7 years. The beliefs and attitudes you hold can affect how long you live.

Subjective life expectancy and self-rated health refer to your personal beliefs about how long you might live and your overall health, respectively. A recent study of Koreans showed that these simple concepts predict longevity. Researchers collected data from a representative sample of Koreans age 45 years or older at baseline in the 2006 waves of the Korean Longitudinal Study of Aging. Participants age 64 answered the following question: What is the percent chance that you will live to be how long they expected to live 75? Subjects of age 65-69 responded to this question: What is the percent chance that you will live to be how long they expected to live 80? Those in older age groups answered comparable questions with the target age increasing by 5 years for each current age category. All participants self-rated their health on a 5-point scale from excellent to poor. Ratings of excellent, very good, and good collectively comprised “good health.” Ratings of fair or poor defined “bad health.” After accounting for confounding factors, subjective life expectancy predicted actual longevity over eight years of follow-up.

A recent study from the Netherlands confirmed that subjective life expectancy predicts actual longevity. Researchers asked 1,731 persons enrolled in the Netherlands Institute Work and Retirement Panel, aged 50-64 at baseline, how likely they were to live to age 75. Five possible choices ranged from highly unlikely to highly likely. Participants also responded to the statement, “I think that my chances of living to a very old age (90+) are considerable.” Five possible choices ranged from totally agree to totally disagree. Participants reported their self-rated physical health on a five-point scale from very good to poor. Four percent of the participants died during 10 years of follow-up. Subjective life expectancy predicted actual risk of death, even after accounting for self-rated health and other potential confounding factors.

If you want and expect to live longer, develop a mindset that supports your desire to do so.

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