When you’re good at focusing your attention, you use more brainpower, says the lead researcher in both studies, Robert S. Wilson, PhD, a professor of neurological sciences and psychology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
About 17% of Americans are “flourishers”. They have a optimistic view towards life, a sense of purpose and community, and are healthier than “languishers” – about 10% of adults who don’t feel good about themselves. Most of us fall somewhere in between. “We should strive to flourish, to find meaning in our lives,” says Corey Keyes, PhD, a professor of sociology at Emory University. “In Sardinia and Okinawa, where people live the longest, hard work is important, but not more so than spending time with family, nurturing spirituality, and doing for others.”
Using two types of statistical analysis, the researchers were able to assess the relative importance of a total of 65 different variables in predicting participants’ mortality risk.
The results revealed subjective health and mental processing speed to be two of the strongest predictors — that is, better perceived health and smaller decreases in mental processing speed over time were associated with reduced mortality risk.
Being a woman was also associated with reduced mortality risk, while years of smoking tobacco was linked with an increased risk of early death.
The influence of the two psychological factors relative to known medical risk factors, such as cardiovascular symptoms, came as a surprise:
The result that psychological variables are so strongly linked to mortality risk is very surprising because much extant evidence supports the hypothesis that the strongest predictors of survival in old age are of medical or physiological nature. – Aichele.
These findings may provide useful insights to health professionals, who need better methods for identifying individuals at risk of early death.
“Addressing the needs of an aging global population will require accounting for numerous morbidity and mortality risk factors, such as demographic variables, health conditions, functional capacities, mental abilities, and social support,” the researchers conclude.