Happiness grows as we get older: study

Close up of a Senior Couple Dancing at Water's Edge
Close up of a Senior Couple Dancing at Water's Edge

The older we get, the happier we are, according to a new cross-cultural study.

The research, led by Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, analysed lifestyle and health patterns in more than 10,000 people and links to participants' mental and physical quality of life and health status.

Quality of life was evaluated using a measure which takes in eight different factors including perception of general health, pain, social functioning and mental health.

The researchers found that people reported better mental quality of life as they got older, despite a drop in physical quality of life.

This is in line with previous research which suggests happiness levels follow a U-shape curve with their lowest point in the mid-40s, after which they rise as people get older.

Dr Saverio Stranges, who led the study, along with Dr Kandala Ngianga-Bakwin, said there are a number of factors that could be making us smile more the older we get.

"This could be due to better coping abilities, an interpretation supported by previous research showing older people tend to have internal mechanisms to deal better with hardship or negative circumstances than those who are younger," Dr Stranges said.

"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.

This cross-cultural comparison study considered people in the UK and US - two countries which have different welfare and health care systems, factors which could impact on quality of life.

The researchers also found that being overweight or obese did not have a significant impact on mental wellbeing levels. People with a BMI of more than 30 reported similar mental quality of life levels to those considered to be a healthy weight.

For women in the US, low levels of physical activity didn't appear to impact their mental wellbeing. However, this was not the case for men, where limited exercise had a significant adverse impact on their mental quality of life.

"This has been reported in previous research, ie the so-called 'jolly fat' hypothesis, although not consistently," Dr Stranges said.

The study also looked at the effect of sleep on quality of life, and found there was an optimum window of sleep duration. Those who sleep between six and eight hours per day tended to have both better physical and mental health scores than those who slept on average less than six hours or more than eight hours.

- HERALD ONLINE

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