Age brings mental health improvements

Age brings mental health improvements

By Liz Lockhart

Growing older is no bed of roses for some as with age comes physical decline but, a new study shows that, as we age, our mental health improves.

The study is a cross cultural exercise which takes a look at health status and quality of life in both the United Kingdom and the United States.  Warwick medical School at the University of Warwick led the study in which lifestyles and health patterns were analysed.  Over 10,000 participants from both countries were assessed.

The researchers evaluated quality of life by using a survey to assess eight different key factors such as:

  • Perception of general health
  • Pain
  • Social functioning
  • Mental health

After the age of around 45, happiness levels rise as individuals get older, the researchers found, with the age of 45 being the lowest point of a U-shaped curve.  This finding is consistent with previously conducted studies. 

Interestingly, the study found that the results were consistent in both the US and the UK, despite the differences in welfare and health-care systems.  They also found that being overweight or obese does not have any significant importance when it comes to mental wellbeing levels.  People with a BMI of over 30 have similar mental quality of life levels compared to those of a healthy weight.

In the United States, the researchers found a difference between men and women when it comes to physical exercise.  For women this does not appear to have any impact on their mental wellbeing, but for men this was not the case.  Limited physical exercise has a significant negative impact for men.

The research was led by Saverio Stranges, M.D., and Kandala Ngianga-Bakwin, Ph.D.  They said ‘It’s obvious that people’s physical quality of life deteriorates as they age, but what is interesting is that their mental wellbeing doesn’t also deteriorate, in fact it increases.  We suggest that this could be due to better coping abilities, an interpretation supported by previous research showing older people ten to have internal mechanisms to deal better with hardship or negative circumstances than those who are younger.’

They added ‘It could also be due to a lowering of expectations from life, with older people less likely to put pressure on themselves in the personal and professional spheres.  With regard to our findings on excess body weight and its lack of significant impact on mental-wellbeing, this has been reported in previous research, i.e. the so-called ‘jolly fat’ hypothesis, although not consistently.’

Another consideration of the study was the effect sleep on life quality.  It was found that there is an optimum ‘window’ of sleep duration.  People who sleep between six and eight hours each day were inclined to have better mental and physical health scores compared to people who have six hours or less or more than eight hours per day.

Some differences were detected between the two countries.  In the United States, the participants’ social background was more likely to have an effect on quality of life. A better quality of life was reported by participants in a higher socio-economic along with better mental and physical health.  It is suggested that this difference between the US and the UK could result from the UK’s universal healthcare which could have a levelling effect on overall wellbeing.

No votes yet