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Live Longer By Believing You Will

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Eat your fruits and veggies. Exercise regularly. Don’t drink too much, and don’t ever smoke.

These are all sound pieces of advice when it comes to extending our longevity, and researchers have focused a great deal of time and resources on trying to pinpoint the factors that help us live longer. They’ve even looked at psychological factors such as history of mental health issues. But one thing they haven’t really explored is the impact of one’s belief that he or she will live a long time – at least until now.

A pair of researchers at Purdue University recently explored how older adults’ future health expectations affected their mortality. They used a national sample of 1,266 Americans who were surveyed in 1995 about their self-rated health status and how healthy they thought they would be in ten years. The participants were between the ages of 50 and 74 when they were surveyed, and they were tracked through 2005.

Results showed that those who had positive expectations about their health when they looked ahead ten years were more likely to survive than those who had negative expectations about their future health status. In other words, those who believed they would live longer tended to do so.

In a similar study of the will-to-live, a group of researchers in Finland interviewed a group of 283 home-dwelling older adults between the ages of 75 and 90. The elders were asked in the year 2000 how many more years they would like to live. Information was collected regarding their health status (type and number of conditions) as well as age and gender.

The elders were classified into three groups: those who wished to live less than 5 years, those who wished to live 5 – 10 years, and those who wished to live more than 10 years. The researchers then followed up in 2010 by checking mortality data to see which elders had died and when. Mortality was highest among those who only wanted to live 5 years or less. The researchers realized that this may be due to increased age or illness among those with a decreased will-to-live, so they ran additional statistics that took those factors into account. Interestingly, they found that will-to-live was a strong predictor of survival regardless of the person’s gender, age, or health status.

I liked these studies because they both point to the notion that if we believe we will live longer, or if we cultivate a strong will-to-live, this really could make a difference in our longevity. We certainly can’t control all of the factors surrounding our health, safety, and lifespan, but knowing that our beliefs are powerful enough to make a difference is, well, pretty empowering.


Ferraro, K. F., & Wilkinson, L. R. (2013). Alternative measures for self-rated health for predicting mortality among older people: Is past or future orientation more important? The Gerontologist (Online). doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt098

Karppinen, H., Laakkonen, M.-L., Strandberg, T. E., Tilvis, R. S., & Pitkälä, K. H. (2012). Will-to-live and survival in a 10-year follow-up among older people. Age and Ageing, 41(6), 789-794.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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