Key to longevity could be in the mind: How a sense of purpose could extend life by two years

  • Scientists examined the ‘eudemonic wellbeing’ of 9,050 Britons over 65
  • That is sense of control, purpose and feeling what they do is worthwhile
  • Over 8.5 years, 9 per cent of people in the highest wellbeing category died
  • That compares with with 29 per cent who died in the lowest category

The life-extending benefits of clean living, a healthy diet and regular exercise are well-documented.

But the key to longevity could be more in mind than body, scientists have revealed.

For a study found that older people with the greatest sense of purpose and wellbeing have a life expectancy two years longer than those whose lives hold less meaning.

'Eudemonic wellbeing': Happier people live longer, new research has found. File picture

Some 9,050 Britons with an average age of 65 took part in the research, which was published in The Lancet medical journal.

Scientists from University College London – as well as Princeton University and Stony Brook University in the US – examined participants’ ‘eudemonic wellbeing’, relating to their sense of control, purpose and feeling that what they do is worthwhile.

Over the eight-and-a-half-year study period, 9 per cent of people in the highest wellbeing category died, compared with 29 per cent in the lowest category.

Once other factors such as smoking habits and illness were taken into account, those with the highest wellbeing were found to be 30 per cent less likely to die over the course of the research. They also lived an average two years longer than those in the lowest wellbeing group.

Professor Andrew Steptoe from UCL said: ‘We cannot be sure that higher wellbeing necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal.’

However, he added that the findings raise the ‘intriguing’ possibility that better wellbeing could improve physical health.

‘There are several biological mechanisms that may link wellbeing to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure,’ he said.

The findings come after the Government introduced the National Wellbeing Programme in 2010, which tracks levels of life satisfaction across the country.