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All too many times overwhelmed caregivers are physically and emotionally depleted and need to take time to rest and care for themselves. Believing in a holistic approach to caregiver stress and a strong commitment to helping our members find the right solutions, we created this blog to help you connect with others who, like you, may be facing the same eldercare issues and challenges. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and submit articles. Please forward the blog link to your family and friends. They'll be glad you did.

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Patricia Grace
founder & CEO
Aging with Grace

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can happiness lead to living longer?


Being happy doesn't just improve the quality of your life. According to a new study, it may increase the quantity of your life as well.

Older people were up to 35% less likely to die during the five-year study if they reported feeling happy, excited, and content on a typical day. And this was true even though the researchers took factors such as chronic health problems, depression, and financial security out of the equation.
"We had expected that we might see a link between how happy people felt over the day and their future mortality, but we were struck by how strong the effect was," says Andrew Steptoe, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at University College London, in the United Kingdom.

It may seem far-fetched that a person's feelings on one particular day would be able to predict the likelihood of dying in the near future, but these emotional snapshots have proven to be a good indication of overall temperament in previous studies, says Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence.

"There is always room for error, of course; if I get a parking ticket or stub my toe on the way to the study, I'm not going to be particularly happy," says Pressman, who was not involved in the study but researches the impact of happiness on health. "But given that the study worked, it suggests that, on average, this day was fairly typical for the participants."

Unlike the happiness measures, depression symptoms were not associated with mortality rates once the researchers adjusted for overall health. According to the study, this finding suggests that the absence of happiness may be a more important measure of health in older people than the presence of negative emotions.

Positive emotions could contribute to better physical health in a number of ways. Regions of the brain involved in happiness are also involved in blood-vessel function and inflammation, for instance, and studies have shown that levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to rise and fall with emotion.

The study doesn't prove that happiness (or unhappiness) directly affects lifespan, but the findings do imply that doctors and caregivers should pay close attention to the emotional well-being of older patients, the researchers say. "We would not advocate from this study that trying to be happier would have direct health benefits," Steptoe says.

However, this study and others like it should help establish happiness as a legitimate area of concern for health professionals, Pressman says. "There are still some people who see happiness as something fluffy and less scientific -- not something they should be worried about like, say, stress or depression," she says.

Happiness, she adds, "may be something for doctors to ask their patients about."

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