People who enjoy life maintain their ability to take care of themselves, and they walk faster than those who rate their lives as less enjoyable, scientists reported Monday.
Feelings of happiness and enjoyment — aka positive affective well-being — have been associated with longer life and less heart disease and stroke. But the current study looked at decline of functions in daily life and disability as people age, and at the more objective measure of walking speed.
The study included 3,199 people 60 and older who are part of a long-term British study. The researchers wanted to know if two or more activities of daily living (dressing, feeding, etc.) were affected by the degree of enjoyment of life.
Two or more impaired activities were found to have developed over eight years among 4.4 percent of the people who scored high in enjoyment of life on a questionnaire; 11.7 percent of those who scored in the medium category; and 16.8 percent of those who scored low. A higher walking speed over eight years also was associated with enjoyment of life, the researchers said in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
They said that such an "increase in odds of acquiring two or more impairments in activities of daily living over eight years among people with low compared with high enjoyment of life is striking."
The participants were assessed on their enjoyment of life based on their response to statements such as "I enjoy being in the company of others" and "I feel full of energy these days." The researchers found that enjoyment of life was highest among the youngest, the most educated, the wealthiest and the married.
"Smoking, physical inactivity and less than daily alcohol consumption were also associated with lower enjoyment of life," the researchers said.
They also took into account such issues as clinical depression, saying, "The enjoyment of life is not simply the reverse of psychological distress."
The lead researcher, Andrew Steptoe of University College London, said that efforts to make life better for older people could also benefit the health care system.