In Brief

Too many jokes about granny and her walker might just shorten her life span, according to research in the August Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 83, No. 2). Becca R. Levy, PhD, of Yale University, and colleagues found that adults who developed positive attitudes about aging lived more than seven years longer than peers who had negative attitudes.

The study investigated perceptions about aging and survival rates over a 22-year period among 660 men and women in Ohio, age 50 to 94. Researchers gauged participants' attitudes about aging through their responses to statements such as "Things keep getting worse as I get older" and "I have as much pep as I did last year."

"Self-perceptions of aging had a greater impact on survival," the researchers say, "than did gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health." In fact, positive attitudes had a greater effect than lowered blood pressure or cholesterol (which increase life span by an estimated four years) or exercise, weight loss, or non-smoking status (which add one to three years).

Since perceptions of aging begin to form early in life, Levy and her co-authors believe interventions to improve one's perceptions about aging need to target young people as well as older ones.

"Our study carries two messages," say the authors. "The discouraging one is that negative self-perceptions can diminish life expectancy; the encouraging one is that positive self-perceptions can prolong life expectancy."