Longer life associated with optimism, stubborness and “love for land” finds study

A new study has shown that being stubborn and optimistic may be a key to long life. The researchers looked at nine villages in the Cilento region of southern Italy and found that hundreds of people there are over 90 years of age. They explored the reasons behind this longevity and found certain behavioral traits accounted for long life. The study was published this week in the journal International Psychogeriatrics.

The study looked at 29 residents from these 9 villages who were aged between 90 and 101. They found that although the health of these nonagenarians was failing when compared to their younger family members, they had a better mental well being. The researchers interviewed and sent in a series of questionnaires to the participants trying to understand their mental well being, philosophies of live, traumatic past events and their attitude towards life and migration. These were given out to the older participants as well as to their younger family members.

Senior author Dr. Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine said that till date the studies on longevity has focused only on genetics of the individuals and this is the first time mental health and personalities of the individuals is taken into account. Mediterranean diet around this region has also been cited as a reason for longer life spans of people living in and around these regions.

Jeste explained their work saying that there are certain unique mental features that are associated with the better and improved mental health of these people. These were “positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land.” Study first author Anna Scelzo, a mental health worker in Chiavarese, Italy emphasized the “love of land” that was seen in almost all of these individuals. She explained that this love for the land gives their lives a purpose. She said that their common beliefs are, “This is my life and I'm not going to give it up,” as they work on their homes and on their lands.

Scelzo also said that these older people were generally more dominating and stubborn compared to the younger population. They had a greater need to be in control and paid less attention to what others think. They generally remained true to the principles in their lives. She said they had “notable grit” and had a tendency to control their environments but also had a good balance that helped them “adapt to changing circumstances.”

The study also noted that the older adults were high on self-confidence and also on decision making abilities compared to their younger counterparts who were in their 50s to 70s. Jeste said this supported the age old belief that wisdom increased with age. The sense of well being was higher among these older people despite their poor physical health. Jeste and colleagues plan to continue studying these populations and explore their life beliefs and its effects on longevity.

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