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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 13-Feb-09

 


Tuesday 17-January-08

Be conscientious, live longer

Do you want to live a long and fulfilling life? Of course we all do. We all know that exercise and a moderate, balanced diet helps. You may also know that sustaining mental fitness and having a social network are also important. I'll maybe blog more about these another time but today I want to tell you about some curious recent research.

Researchers Margaret Kern and Howard Friedman analysed data from 20 other studies covering nearly 9000 people from around the world to make some surprising discoveries. What the found was that people who had potentially fatal conditions such as cancer and heart problems could live, on average, two to four years longer, depending on key aspects of their personality.

A common personality instrument is the Big Five. This assesses key traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and 'neuroticism' (tendency to anxiety). The key trait in this model for longer life was found to be conscientiousness. A conscientious person, by this definition, includes planning ahead and keeping things tidy, as opposed to a chaotic and disorganised approach to life. This factor was more significant as an indicator of longevity than other factors that you might expect to stand out more, such as socio-economic status. The conscientiousness sub-factors that were found to be most important for longevity were ambition and discipline. Less important were responsibility and self-control.

So is conscientiousness the only story? Well it has also been linked to healthy eating and lower risk-taking, so maybe it's not that magical. A clear self-discipline would also seem a good way of reducing debilitating stress. There is, however, a simple and clear message: a concerned and organised approach to life could well pay dividends in several extra golden years.

 

Margaret L. Kern, Howard S. Friedman (2008). Do conscientious individuals live longer? A quantitative review. Health Psychology, 27 (5), 505-512.


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