Emotional stability, conscientiousness may prolong life

By Tom Nordlie • Published: December 1st, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When people talk about good health habits they usually have physical things in mind… eating right, exercising and so forth.

But good mental habits may have positive effects, too.

That’s the word from a long-term study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

It explored possible connections between specific personality traits and mortality.

In the study, more than twenty-three-hundred volunteers took a test that describes personality in five broad categories… agreeableness, openness to experience, extraversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness involves things like self-discipline and resourcefulness.

About two-thirds of the volunteers were men, who were followed more than forty years. Women were tracked twenty-four years.

During the study, forty percent of the volunteers died.

By cross-referencing death statistics with personality test scores, researchers found several trends.

Some personality traits had no effect on survival… agreeableness, extraversion and openness to experience.

But there was a payoff for those who scored moderately high for conscientiousness and emotional stability, the opposite of neuroticism.

On average, they lived two or three years longer than volunteers who scored moderately low for those traits.

People who scored high on general activity, a facet of extraversion, also tended to live a couple more years.

So the take-home lesson is, staying busy, staying focused and coping with stress may help you live longer.

For many of us, there’s lots of room for improvement.

And consider this… even if better mental habits don’t add years to your life, they will probably make every day more enjoyable.