Here's How Much Improving Your Mental Health Can Extend Your Life

People who are happy and generally satisfied by life live longer, according to a new study.

Whether you're an avid exerciser and adamant about healthy eating or not, it likely comes as little surprise that physical health and length of life are inextricably linked. However, a new study suggests that being in good mental health can also have a significant impact on your longevity.

According to a July 2020 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, individuals with mental health they would describe as "flourishing" lived longer than their less mentally healthy counterparts. Based on 18 years of surveys collected as a follow-up to the Canadian Population Health Survey, researchers from the University of Toronto found that, among 12,424 study subjects, those with lower than average mental health scores lived 4.7 months less than those with more robust mental health, the latter of which was based on criteria including happiness, life satisfaction, and good psychological functioning.

older white women couple walking and smiling outside

Even after adjusting for conditions typically associated with a shorter life, including chronic health issues like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, limited physical activity, smoking, and heavy drinking, individuals with poor mental health were still 14 percent more likely to pass away from any cause during the course of the 18-year study than their mentally healthy counterparts.

While the study's researchers did not find a conclusive mechanism by which better mental health increased longevity, they surmised that a combination of factors contribute, including mentally healthy individuals' likelihood to consume healthy food, sleep better, complete treatment for health conditions, and maintain strong relationships.

"Our findings underline the importance of considering the mind and body as a true continuum," explained Esme Fuller-Thomson, the study's lead author and director of the University of Toronto's Institute for Life Course and Aging.

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This isn't the first time life and relationship satisfaction have been linked to a longer life, however; according to the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed 268 male Harvard students for a period of 80 years, satisfying relationships were a significant predictor of longevity.

"When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn't their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old," said the study's director Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, in a TED Talk. "It was how satisfied they were in their relationships." And if your mental health could use a boost, check out these 17 Mental Health Tips for Quarantine From Therapists.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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