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Zest for Life Can Be a Moving Experience

Happier seniors preserved their mobility in greater numbers than their glum peers, study found

WebMD News from HealthDay     By Randy Dotinga    HealthDay Reporter
MONDAY, Jan. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) – Happier seniors can look forward to greater mobility as they age than their gloomier peers, new research suggests.
The findings don’t prove that happiness preserves mobility. However, “the research suggests that enjoyment of life contributes to healthier and more active old age,” said study author Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London. And it’s not just because healthier people are happier and more energetic, he said.
The researchers, who study happiness and how it relates to life, wanted to understand the physical effects of happiness.
“We have previously shown that positive well-being and enjoyment of life are predictors of longer life,” Steptoe said. “Older people who report greater enjoyment are less likely to die over the next five to eight years than those with lower enjoyment of life.”
For this study, published Jan. 20 in CMAJ, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers tracked almost 3,200 men and women aged 60 and over in England. The participants took surveys designed to test their levels of well-being. For instance, they were asked if they enjoy the things they do, being in the company of other people and if they feel full of energy. They also responded to questions about their ability to handle day-to-day physical activities such as getting dressed and showering. Some took a test that measured how fast they walked.
Over the eight years of the study, only 4 percent of people who enjoyed life the most — those in the top third of the total sample – developed problems physically handling day-to-day activities, Steptoe said. But that number shot up to 17 percent among those who showed the least enjoyment — the people in the bottom third.
Greater life satisfaction at the study’s start was also associated with slower decline in walking speed, the researchers added.
“These associations could be due to many things: the people with greater enjoyment of life could be more affluent, have less physical illness or disability to start with, or have healthier lifestyles at the outset, and these factors could predict the changes in physical function over time,” Steptoe said. “But what we found is that baseline health, economic circumstances and lifestyle explain only about half the association between enjoyment of life and deterioration in function. So there is more to it than that.”
Steptoe said that less stress (and, potentially, more happiness) could contribute to better health by protecting the body from the harmful effects of stress hormones.
The research “suggests that among other things, we should think about the positive aspects of life and experience of older people,” Steptoe said. “Not only are these important issues in themselves, they might have benefits in terms of physical function. These could in turn help us contain the spiraling costs of social and health care among older sectors of society.”
James Maddux, a professor emeritus of psychology with the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said the findings are convincing and reflect other research.
“Healthy people are usually happier, and happy people are usually healthier,” he said.
However, he said, it’s important to be cautious about the conclusions. “All we can conclude is some kind of relation between physical health and happiness and life satisfaction,” Maddux noted. “The findings do not tell us whether a great sense of well-being results in improved health or whether improved health results in a greater sense of well-being.”
source: www.webmd.com


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A Sense of Purpose Helps You Live Longer

“Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

Feeling useful and having a sense of purpose in life are clearly beneficial psychologically, but now research is revealing that there also physical benefits.

No matter what your age, new research finds, having a sense of purpose helps you live longer.

However, the earlier you find a sense of direction and purpose, the better.

The findings come from a study of more than 6,000 people who were followed over 14 years (Hill & Turiano, 2014).

The results showed that people who strongly agreed with statements like the following were less likely to die over the course of the study:

    “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

The researchers were surprised that these findings held, even for younger people.

Lead researcher, Patrick Hill, said:

    “There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones.

For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organizing their daily events.

In addition, older adults are more likely to face mortality risks than younger adults.

These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity.”

These findings are not isolated.

Recent studies have pointed to both the physical and psychological benefits of finding meaning in life, especially with advancing years:

    A 2009 study of 1,238 elderly people found that those with a sense of purpose lived longer.

A 2010 study of 900 older adults found that those with a greater sense of purpose were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Survey data often links a sense of purpose in life with increased happiness.

No matter what your age, then, it’s worth thinking about what gives your life meaning.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have the whole thing planned out, but a sense of direction is clearly beneficial both psychologically and physically.

source: psyblog


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A Memory Aid for Seniors: Laughter

SUNDAY, April 27, 2014  (HealthDay News)

Humor and laughter may help combat memory loss in the elderly, a new study suggests.

Previous research has found that the stress hormone cortisol can harm memory and learning ability in older adults. This new study examined whether mirth might reduce the damage caused by cortisol.

Researchers showed a 20-minute humorous video to a group of healthy seniors and a group of seniors with diabetes. These groups were compared with a group of seniors who didn’t see the video.

The two groups that watched the funny video showed significant decreases in cortisol levels and greater improvements on memory tests, compared to the group that didn’t see the video. The diabetes group showed the largest decrease in cortisol levels, while the healthy group had the greatest improvement on memory tests.

The study was to be presented Sunday at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego. Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

“It’s simple, the less stress you have, the better your memory,” one of the study’s authors, Lee Berk, said in a Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology news release. “Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decreases memory [brain cells], lowers your blood pressure and increases blood flow and your mood state. The act of laughter — or simply enjoying some humor — increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.

“These positive and beneficial neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better,” Berk added. “There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the ‘gamma wave band frequency’, which also amp up memory and recall. So, indeed, laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”

The findings could be used in designing wellness programs for the elderly, according to study author Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains. Berk and Bains are both from Loma Linda University in Calif.

The study did not prove that humor offsets memory loss, it only found an association between the two.


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How Aging Changes What Makes You Happy

With increasing age, people get more pleasure out of everyday experiences; while younger people define themselves more by extraordinary experiences, a new study finds.

The study asked over 200 people between the ages of 19 and 79 about happy experiences they’d had that were both ordinary and extraordinary (Bhattacharjee & Mogilner, 2014).

Naturally, happy extraordinary experiences–like a expensive foreign travel–happen less frequently, while ordinary happy experiences–like seeing your family–are much more common.

Across all the age-groups in the study, people found pleasure in all sorts of experiences; both ordinary and extraordinary.

They enjoyed their hobbies, being in nature, traveling, eating, being in love and just relaxing.

But it was older people who managed to extract more pleasure from relatively ordinary experiences.

They got more pleasure out of spending time with their family, from the look on someone’s face or a walk in the park.

Younger people, in contrast, were more interested in defining themselves through extraordinary experiences. The authors explain:

    “Young people actively look to define themselves and thus find it particularly rewarding to accumulate extraordinary experiences that mark their progression through life milestones and help them build an interesting experiential CV.”

Further experiments suggested that the focus on ordinary versus extraordinary is influenced by how much of life is still to come:

    “Ordinary, mundane moments that make up everyday life tend to be overlooked when the future seems boundless; however, the potential for these ordinary experiences to contribute to happiness increases as people come to realize their days are numbered.” (Bhattacharjee & Mogilner,2014).

These findings underline the importance of savoring experiences. Some of life’s greatest moment are over in a flash–sometimes with little fanfare or reflection.

Learning to savor those moments–whether they are ordinary or extraordinary–is a skill that takes practice, but can bring great rewards.

source: PsyBlog