By Graeme Paton
Published in The Daily Telegraph 15 Oct 2012
People who are grumpy in middle age are up to three times more likely to die than those with a happy outlook on life, according to a major study.
Researchers warned that levels of happiness among over-50s had a significant bearing the onset of disability, slower walking speed and incidence of coronary heart disease.
The study, which follows the lives of more than 10,000 English people throughout older age, shows that psychological well-being could be used to predict which people will go on to develop serious problems in their 60s.
Researchers insisted that the link remained irrespective of other factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, wealth and education.
The conclusions were made in the latest of a series of reports published by the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing – an on-going study led by academics from University College London, Manchester University, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and NatCen Social Research.
It comes after the Coalition launched a well-being survey aimed at tracking the emotional health of the British public. Initial findings released in the summer showed the average adult was rated 7.4 out of 10 for life satisfaction.
Critics have condemned the £2m-a-year cost of the project, claiming that it is a diversion from the real issues affecting the nation, such as economic growth.
But today’s findings suggest that happiness levels may have significant bearings on future health.
The study said: “Those who were recorded as having a greater enjoyment of life in were more likely to still be alive nine to 10 years later than were other participants.
“The difference between those who enjoyed life the most and those who enjoyed life the least was marked, with nearly three times more people dying in the lower than greater enjoyment group.”
Researchers added: “We found that psychological well-being in 2004/05 predicted the onset of disability, slower walking speed, impaired self-rated health and the incidence of coronary heart disease in 2010–11, in people who were initially free of these problems.”
In further conclusions, the study found that one-in-six people in England aged over 50 were “socially isolated”.
They had few socially-orientated hobbies, little civic or cultural engagement with society and may have very limited numbers of friends. Wealthier adults were half as likely to become isolated as those in poverty, it emerged.
Researchers also found evidence of a “significant number” of people working while drawing a pension.
Almost half of men and a third of women aged 60-to-64 in receipt of private pensions were still in work, it was revealed.