Life expectancy is determined by many factors. Whether we live longer or shorter depends not only on genetics, diet, level of physical activity and environmental factors to which we expose ourselves, but also on psychological factors. It is therefore not enough to clean up the surrounding environment and adopt a healthy lifestyle if we forget to do mental cleansing.
The tendency to perfectionism and neurosis present us with a heavy bill
Some Canadian researchers at Trinity Western University have wondered whether certain personality traits can affect our life expectancy. To find out, they recruited 450 elderly adults and followed them for a period of six and a half years.
In the initial phase of the study, people did not suffer from any serious illness. However, the risk of death was greater in some than in others. During personality tests, these psychologists found that people who had a tendency to perfectionism and suffered from neurosis were more likely to die. Conversely, the risk was much lower in people who had a more optimistic, outgoing and responsible personality.
Perfectionism and neurosis have many points in common, because they involve the tendency to obsessive persistence. In the case of perfectionism the obsession is given by the desire to obtain better results, while in the neurosis it depends on the worries.
However, in both cases the inability to disconnect from work or stressful thoughts can also cause changes on the immunological level, as numerous studies indicate.
Optimism, extroversion, self-efficacy and openness to new experiences are the key to living longer
A study conducted at the prestigious Karolinska Institute confirmed the previous results. This time the researchers recruited a larger sample of 2.298 adults over 60 with no symptoms of any psychological or neurological disorder and followed them for over 11 years.
After this period of time they found that the most extroverted people had a 65% lower mortality rate. Openness to new experiences also proved to be a positive factor that reduced the risk of dying by 26%.
But the most interesting finding was that the researchers looked at other factors beyond personality, such as body mass index, the number of chronic illnesses the participants suffered, the level of physical activity they performed and lifestyle. Hence, they concluded that initial health was a determining factor in only 5% of deaths.
In fact, another interesting study conducted at the University of Kentucky, in which 180 nuns who lived in identical conditions were followed, from the age of 22 to 75 or 95, concluded that personality traits such as optimism and resources to cope with the life we all have, they are more reliable to predict longevity than socio-economic and living conditions.
Resuming the study conducted by the Swedish researchers, it was seen that extroverted people were not only distinguished by a high optimism, but also by an enormous self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the confidence in our abilities, that we are able to organize and carry out different actions that allow us to positively influence the environment and achieve the results we want.
This set of personality traits, according to the researchers, is what prompts people to develop healthy lifestyle habits and adopt more positive life coping strategies that will ultimately allow them to live longer.